The John Amaechi story. Iâ€™m not going to break far from this blogâ€™s long-stated purpose of trying to focus on the court not off (remember, I started this site in frustration of the lack of stories and media discussion actually about basketball and not the soap opera in LA in the wake of the Kobe/Shaq feud), but I want to point you to a couple of things. First, Kevin at Clipperblog, who is gay, writes an absolute must read. Second, I thought both Henry at True Hoop and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell made great comments.
Deeeetroit Basketball. They are the top seed in the East, and come June expect this team (or maybe Chicago) to be the sacrificial lamb to Dallas/Phoenix.
Under Flip Saunders, the Pistons offense has become a force, they are the fourth most efficient in the NBA. Whatâ€™s surprising is they donâ€™t do it by shooting particularly well â€“ they are 20th in the NBA in eFG% — but they turn the ball over less than anyone in the league (just 14.1% of their possessions end in a turnover, compared to 16.5% for the Lakers) and they are very strong on the offensive glass.
Leading the way is Chauncy Billups, who is putting up 18.3 points per game while shooting 51% (eFG%), and you canâ€™t leave him alone beyond the arc where heâ€™s shooting 42.5% in the last 10 games. What really makes him tough is that not only can he score, but also 31% of his possessions end in an assist. When he is on the floor, the Pistons are 13.1 points better than their opponents per 48 minutes (for some comparison, Kobe is +7). Looking at the hot zones, the best bet is to make him a midrange shooter. Good luck with that.
Richard Hamilton takes on the largest part of the offense, taking 26% of the teamâ€™s shots and scores 22 a game. Heâ€™s shooting a respectable 48% for a guy taking on that much of the offense. He does his best shooting in the middle of the floor, you want to try to keep him on the wings (although he can score from anywhere).
Chris Webber has a little bit in the tank. Since he got the â€œget out of jail freeâ€ card in Philly, he has shows that reports of his demise were a little premature. In his 11 games in Detroit, he is shooting 59.6% (eFG%), much better than the 45.3% he had in Philly. In the last 10 games heâ€™s averaged 13.6 points per game but heâ€™s been efficient in getting them and is using 19.6% of the offense when he is on the floor, less than the 22% he had to take on before the trade. The Pistons are +10.5 per 48 minutes when he is on the floor. And donâ€™t forget, he is still one of the better passing big men in the game.
Ready to see some zone? The Pistons pretty much manhandled the Lakers back in November, and did so in part because the Pistons went to a zone and the Lakers were flummoxed. Kobe was still slowed by his knee at that time and had just two points in the first three quarters. Lamar Odom was 6-14 and unimpressive, but then none of the Laker starters played well. The bench guys (along with Kobe) helped the Lakers make a 14-2 fourth quarter run so the Lakers would only lose by 14.
The Pistons play a lot of zone when they think the goal is stopping a star (ala Kobe). How you beat a zone is Kobe passing, getting the ball into the soft underbelly of the zone (then hitting threes on kickouts) and pounding the offensive glass.
No Walton. No Kwame. Walton was supposed to be back in the middle of this road trip, but his ankle is on its own schedule. He is not expected to play tonight, and may not over the weekend. In case you missed it, Kwame is out for another month.
Things to look for. The Lakers need to pick up the pace â€” the Pistons are the slowest-playing team in the NBA, averaging 88.6 possessions per game (thatâ€™s six fewer a game than the Lakers). The Pistons are just 6 and 7 against the 10 fastest-paced teams in the NBA. Bottom line, if you can run on the Pistons you can give them problems, if you slow it down you are playing their game.
I expect there will be a lot of zone, but if the Lakers can bust that then Tayshaun Prince on Kobe Bryant should be fun to watch.
Also, last meeting Prince scored 31 on 56.3% (eFG%) shooting, so the Lakers need to do a better job defending him. Kobeâ€™s knee being back closer to 100% should be a help.