Game Preview & Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Kurt —  November 16, 2007

Records: Lakers 4-3; Pistons 6-2
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.1 (11th); Pistons 111.3 (4th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (18th); Pistons 103.4 (12th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Vladamir Radmanovic, Kwame Brown (this is a big of a guess, but Phil Jackson said yesterday he did not want Odom at the four tonight)
Pistons: Ronald Murray, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Rasheed Wallace

Lakers Notes:Ronny Turiaf turned an ankle yesterday in practice, which means he’ll be watching from the sidelines. We’ll see how much the bum ankle impacts his cheering.

With a couple injuries to the Pistons, this is another night the Lakers bench could be key. That is, if Luke Walton can shake out of this funk. He has slumped the last three games since exiting the starting lineup (shooting just 24% and with 10 turnovers). He also had a tough defensive game last time out trying to cover Bonzi Wells. (I’ll add, even with Turiaf out I wouldn’t start him tonight just because I don’t want to reward the way he played lately. Make him earn his way back in. Plus the matchups don’t work well for Walton to start tonight.)

I’m looking forward to a little bit of Andrew Bynum on Sheed, just to see what the stronger body and length can do.

The Pistons Coming In: Both Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess are game-time decisions tonight due to injuries.

The Pistons have a couple of the better NBA team blogs out there. Natalie and Need 4 Sheed is a lot of fun, but this time around I decided to pose some Pistons questions to Matt from Detroit Bad Boys (and Fanhouse).

I know a lot of pundits thought the Pistons stood pat this off-season and
didn’t address their needs, but you don’t feel that way. What did the
Pistons do and why will it pay off when it matters next Spring?

Ironically, the two biggest developments are things that Lakers fans probably won’t see tonight: the addition of Rodney Stuckey off the bench and the decision to move Antonio McDyess to the starting lineup. Stuckey, as you probably heard, broke his left hand in the preseason finale and is about a week or so away from returning. On Tuesday, McDyess aggravated a shoulder injury and could sit out his second game in a row tonight.

But when he’s healthy, Stuckey gives Detroit a solid option in the backcourt who can get into the paint and draw the foul. He has other talents, but that’s the one skill-set the Pistons have been lacking the most in recent years, and it’s something he proved he could do with ease throughout most of the preseason. Plus, he’ll bump Flip Murray down on the depth chart. Murray has his moments, but no one can argue that he’s more of an asset as the fourth guard as opposed to the third.

As for McDyess joining the starting lineup, it not only makes sense in terms of getting your best players on the floor early but also opens the door for some of Detroit’s young big men to actually be used. Jason Maxiell, who you’ll soon discover is one of the league’s hidden gems, brings a ton of energy and physical play to the court, but he was the third big man off the bench last year behind McDyess and Dale Davis. This year, he’s the first to get the call. Amir Johnson is kind of in Maxiell’s position last year in terms of getting inconsistent minutes early in the year, but that’s better than before when he couldn’t even dress for most games.

Amir Johnson is the fans favorite (or so it seems) but not so much with
the coaching staff. What have the Pistons got in him?

First, he’s the answer to a trivia question: he was the last high school kid drafted (56th overall in 2005) before David Stern changed the rules. But more importantly, he’s an incredible athlete. He’s grown two inches since draft day without losing a shred of his athleticism or speed, making him one of the most agile and fast 6-11 players in the league.

Of course, he’s still on the thin side and gets pushed around in the post, but he’s like a pogo stick in terms of getting up and going after rebounds and blocking shots, needing very little time to regroup before getting back in the air. And as talented as Rasheed Wallace and McDyess still are, they’re now known more for their jump-shooting ability whereas Johnson lives above the rim.

Unfortunately, he’s still playing catch-up considering he missed seven of eight games in the preseason with a sprained ankle that turned into a lingering sore Achilles early in the regular season. But he’s looked better and better in each game he plays, so hopefully he’ll keep getting his number called, even if it’s for only 5-10 minutes a night.

Are the Pistons players and fans quietly seething over all the Boston hype right now?

Honestly, I think it’s the opposite: it’s kind of nice to be under the radar. This team isn’t measured by regular-season wins and losses, so avoiding all of the hype from November to April will take a bit of pressure off the team. The Pistons have been division champs in five out of the past six years — the one year they weren’t was 2004, which, I’m sure you remember, ended kind of nicely for them. Given what we’ve seen from Cleveland and Chicago, I don’t doubt they’ll win the Central again this year, but I think the Pistons are fine letting Boston worry about locking up that No. 1 seed. In the meantime, Detroit will use the regular season to develop their bench so they’ll be even better in the playoffs.

What are the Pistons doing right to get off to this good start?

It’s all about balance. Five different players have led the team in scoring in the first seven games, and then three players tied for the team lead in the last game. You really never know who’s going to step up in any given night. If someone gets hot, the rest of the team will keep feeding him the ball. I won’t go so far as to say there aren’t any egos on this team, but everyone is working toward the same goal every night and trusts the guy standing next to him.

Factoid That Would Interest Only Peter King: Boston may be getting all the hype, but I think Detroit beats them in a seven game playoff series. In those chess matches it becomes about exploiting weaknesses, and despite how good the Big Three are in Boston I think there are plenty of places to attack that team (at PG and off the bench). And Detroit, with its balance, can do that well — can you imagine what Billups would do to Rondo in a seven-game series? But we are a long way off from that right now. And what the heck do I know, I thought the Bulls would win the East.

Keys To The Game: Look for a high scoring game — these are two good offenses and two pretty average (and that’s being kind to the Lakers right now) defenses. The Pistons do not create a lot of turnovers (24th in the league at that) so this could be one game where the Lakers don’t turn it over much. If they do, it could be big trouble again.

On defense, the Lakers can’t leave Hamilton alone beyond the arc, they need to stick with him and try to force him into the midrange — he’s still a good shooter from there but not as deadly as everywhere else. Rasheed Wallace is the other guy you have to force into the midrange — his shooting percentage drops off considerably if he’s 15 feet or more out (but he can hit from three, but better that then next to the basket). It’s got to be Kwame using his body, but he’s going to need help because Sheed is too athletic for him.

The key in this game will be the team that plays better defense. If the Lakers can get good rotations and can clog up the lane when guys penetrate, they can force the Piston players to take the midrange shot they are less comfortable with. The Pistons have not done a great job this year defending opposing twos and fours (PERS of 17.3 and 16.8, respectively). That means this could be a big game for Kobe and Odom.

Tonight’s Game: Where too much talk about 2004 Happens: Maybe the biggest key to this game is whether or not Billups plays — without him the Pistons offense isn’t as fluid. Still, I expect this one to be close and high scoring, but I think this Laker team could find a way to win one at home. And if they could get a couple technicals on the fiery Sheed, all the better.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports West, nationally you get ESPN, and online check out the gamecast.