Records: Lakers 9-2 (3rd in the West), Pistons 4-7 (10th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 117.6 (1st in NBA), Pistons 104.4 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.1 (23rd in NBA), Pistons 109.2 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Pistons: Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, Ben Wallace
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Pistons: Jonas Jerebko (out), Chris Wilcox (out), Terrico White (out)
Big Man Hunting: As you read in this morning’s links, the Lakers are looking at the possibility of adding a big man to fill in while Bynum advances in his rehab and Theo recovers from Tuesday knee surgery. The names being thrown around are not inspiring (Jake Voskhul, Sean May, Steven Hunter), but considering the circumstances they shouldn’t be. Big man depth is key, but when the Lakers are fully healthy, the 4th big on this team is a part time player at most and performs more high fives on a nightly basis than inside pivots from the mid-post. I thought Dave McMenamin made a good point in his column over at Land O’ Lakers when he said:
One thing I know: Derrick Caracter isn’t going to be the guy. The rookie got a DNP against the Bucks while Gasol played 40-plus minutes for the third straight game. One thing I think: Finding a young, fresh body in the D-League would be their best bet.
I too think that the D-league may provide the best option, especially one that currently plays on the Bakersfield Jam and may have some previous exposure to the Lakers’ systems. Drew Naymick fits that description and may be worth calling up for a few weeks on an unguaranteed contract that can be voided once all the Lakers bigs return to health and on court action. Also, don’t think that because the Lakers are looking outside of the current roster that there’s some issue with Caracter. While remaining high on Caracter’s long term potential is a given, he’s still best when paired with Gasol and he’s prone to the types of defensive lapses that many rookie big men are. And when it comes to earning minutes from Phil, an understanding of the defensive schemes is a priority (this is why Ebanks seems to have earned more minutes so far than Caracter). Derrick’s time will surely come, but I have the feeling that he needs more defensive polish and could use more practice reps on both sides of the ball before he’s deemed ready to soak up minutes as a backup big that works in the pivot.
The Pistons Coming in: Oh how the high and mighty have fallen. It’s hard to believe that it was just 2004 that the Pistons defeated the Lakers in the Finals, using a well-coached, disciplined group of players. Since that time, the Lakers have come back to play in 3 more championship series (winning two) while the team from the motor city has slowly slipped from contender, to mediocrity, to now being one of the lesser teams in all the league. Joe Dumars, once lauded as one of the shrewdest GMs in the league, has attempted to remake his team but has fallen flat in nearly every way. Bad trades (Billups for Iverson?), questionable free agent moves, draft picks that haven’t yet panned out, and coaching changes that just churn out the same poor results are all now contributing to a team that’s 4-7 and seemingly stuck in neutral or, even worse, reverse.
Recently, the Pistons are getting ink for all the wrong reasons. Injuries have caused rotations to be shuffled and poor results on the floor have caused spats between players and coaches to break out in the media. Essentially, this team is the definition of dysfunction and I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to change if these same pieces are stuck together trying to cooperate when it’s obvious that there’s not a lot of agreement going on between the principal parties.
The thing is though, this team has some talent. While some of their parts are aging (Hamilton, Prince), they have some good players at nearly every position (save big man). Stuckey has been playing well, Ben Gordon is always a threat to put up big numbers off the bench, and Charlie V has been scoring at a good clip with good outside shooting. They just don’t have the cohesiveness of a winning team. (On a side note, there were some folks who root for the Lakers that wanted Tracy McGrady over the off-season. Well, based off his game log, lets just say I’m glad he’s on another roster. Granted, his numbers are a bit better of late, but I’m quite happy with Blake and Barnes thank you very much.)
Keys to game: Second night of a back to back tonight and that always means the prospect of tired legs. This is especially important when monitoring how Gasol is playing throughout the game, as he saw a team-high 44 minutes in last night’s victory over the Bucks. Andif you read the first part of the preview, you know that there may not be any help on the roster besides the possibility of going small with Odom at Center for limited minutes. This may mean that Phil gets creative in how he rests Pau by pulling him out at the end of quarters or before mandatory timeouts just to give Pau the maximum amount of real time rest in the minimum amount of game minutes missed.
The bigger issue with a potentially tired Pau is that the weakest part of the Pistons’ roster is their front court. They start the undersized Ben Wallace, who is years removed from the days that he terrorized the defensive paint through his ability to block shots and control the glass and can now be attacked by a player as skilled as Pau. After Big Ben, they have rookie Greg Monroe and the undersized Jason Maxiell. And that’s it. So, I’d say that the Lakers need to attack inside but much of that will depend on the wind in Gasol’s sails and the defensive approach that the Pistons take in trying to control the Spaniard. In order to maximize the results from Gasol, I’d love to see him operate more on the strong side but initiated with the Center Opposite offensive initiation that involves an open post being filled by a flashing big man (in this case, Pau). This way, Pau catches the ball on the move and can potentially use his height and reach advantage in a manner that allows him to get the ball closer to the hoop.
When it comes to containing the Pistons, we look again to the perimeter and their seemingly endless supply of players that have the skill set to hurt the Lakers. Nearly every Piston guard, wing, or power forward is comfortable shooting the ball out to the three point line and they’ll run a variety of pick and pop plays to get screeners open to shoot the long ball. Meanwhile, along the baseline, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon will be trying to wear out Kobe, Artest, and Barnes by running them off stagger screens so they can catch and shoot off picks and curls into the mid-range area of the court. These are the types of players and sets that have given the Lakers problems this year and tonight, regardless of the quality of the team they face, they will be tested by them.
One other facet of the game I’ll be watching closely is the pace. Detroit currently operates at the 4th slowest pace in the entire league (for comparisons sake, the Lakers rank 7th fastest). But, one of the ways that teams have tried to attack the Lakers recently is by pushing the ball at them in order to avoid facing their half court defense. Phoenix and Denver do this naturally so the fact that they employed this tactic is understandable. However, the Bucks did the same thing last night to the point that they were running after made baskets like it was Mike D’Antoni pacing their sideline instead of Scott Skiles. Tonight, if the Pistons are running after makes or pushing the ball at every turn you can bet that this is the strategy that teams think works best to defeat the Lakers and that we, as fans, better get used to seeing some high scoring games just off the strength that this is what teams are trying.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time out West on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.