Preview and Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Darius Soriano —  January 4, 2011

Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Records: Lakers 23-11 (4th in West), Pistons 11-23 (12th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.9 (5th in NBA), Pistons 105.1 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (12th in NBA), Pistons 110.1 (25th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pistons: Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Pistons:Jonas Jerebko (out), Terrico White (out), Chris Wilcox (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in:  The only thing most people can talk about is what’s wrong with the Lakers.  Whether running with comments from Phil and Kobe that speak to disharmony, pointing the finger at Gasol for his drop off from earlier in the season, or looking at age and athleticism, the stories are coming fast and furious as the Lakers underachieve as a team.  No one is ready to put the fork in this group, but as the underwhelming play continues, the Lakers are an easy target to begin to dismiss with the rationalization that it may not be their year. 

We’ve given our own responses to what ails the Lakers, but at some point any criticism from the outside will need to be matched by what’s going on the inside of the Lakers’ lockerroom if we’re going to see any marked improvement.  I mean, we can talk all we want about improving some aspect of their play (or all aspects of it) but until the players actually start to do those things we’ll just sit back and see similar results to what we have of late.   Some frustrating games where win or lose the only consistent thing we get from the team in its lack of consistency; its inability to string together even 24 minutes of truly inspired basketball.  Simply put, the Lakers need to look in the mirror and start to figure some things out.  Time for talk is running out and patience is wearing thin from even the most optimistic observers. 

The Pistons Coming in:  When the Lakers visited Detroit in the middle of November, we spoke of a struggling team that was fighting with their coach.  At that point in the year they looked like a mish-mash group of guys that weren’t on the same page and the results were too many losses and over-boiling frustration.  And while the confrontations have mostly calmed down, this team isn’t any better than the one we say 6 weeks ago.

This group still struggles to defend, doesn’t have an interior offensive presence, and has a glut of wing players that would never be confused with “lunch pail” types that are willing to do the little things to win.  The team still has issues playing hard every night and whether you want to point the finger at the coaches or the players, the fact is that neither group is getting it done.  They’ve lost 4 of 5 games with their lone win came against an injury riddled Celtics team.

All that negativity aside though, the team (despite the losses) has been playing some close games.  3 of those 4 recent losses were by 5 points or less (including their last game against the Jazz) and they took the Bulls to overtime before falling short.  On an individual level, Tracy McGrady has been playing well of late, filling in for Rodney Stuckey (stomach virus) as a primary ball handler and playmaker.  In his three starts, T-Mac has averaged 7 assists a game and had a near triple-double against the Jazz with 11 points and assists while grabbing 9 rebounds.  Tayshaun Prince has also been an efficient scorer in the last few games making greater than 50% of his shots in 4 of his last 5 contests.  In the end though, this team is losing two of every three contests and until they can rework their roster they’re going to have a rough go of it. 

Pistons Blogs:  PistonPowered does an excellent job with all things Detroit Basketball.  Give ’em a visit and see for yourself.

Keys to game:  The last time these two team met, the Lakers won easily by executing their offense with alarming efficiency to the point where only a lax 4th quarter kept the final margin as close as it was.  Tonight, against the 25th most efficient defense, the Lakers will again look to capitalize on their overwhelming match up advantages while suffocating a Piston offense that will look to do most of their damage from the outside.

Offensively, those advantages lie in the post.  With Bynum back the Lakers’ size advantage borders on the ridiculous as the undersized Ben Wallace and SF posing as PF Charlie V will be facing Bynum and Gasol respectively.  If there’s any night where the Lakers need to go inside to start nearly ever possession it would be this one.  Neither of those guys are defensive stoppers (Wallace once an all timer on that end is now just average, allowing a PER against of 19 when playing Center) and they should be attacked relentlessly.  Going inside will open up the game for every other Laker both on the perimeter and slashing to the rim so the team would be best served (as they are most nights) working inside out.

Defensively, the Lakers should look to be very aggressive on the wing.  I’d like to see them deny passing lanes, pressure ball handlers, and look to be as disruptive as possible on the perimeter.  The Pistons want to run stagger screen sets for their shooters and run pick and roll with their primary ball handlers, but in the end it leads nearly 38 shots a night from 16 feet and out (according to HoopData).  That means the Lakers will be best served forcing the Pistons off their sweet spots and into the help of contesting big men.  Where the Lakers may struggle some is in the pick and pop game with Charlie V setting the screens, but because Ben Wallace is a non offensive threat, the Lakers should be able to rotate off him to cover up their rotations.

Lastly, I’d also like to see the Lakers push the pace a bit more than they have lately.  For the season, the Lakers are the 11th fastest paced team in the NBA but of late they’ve been walking the ball up a lot more.  Detroit actually prefers to play at a slow pace as their in the bottom 5 teams in the NBA averaging only 92 possessions a game (the Lakers average about 96).  I know that the Lakers are not going to be a classic fast break team as they lack the parts to play that way (Fisher is not only older but he’s not a traditional PG and besides Kobe, Barnes, and Brown no Laker is really great at running the floor), but the Lakers can do other things to play faster.  They can run the ball up and look to initiate the offense faster, they can run more drag screen and rolls in semi-transition, the big men can run more post lane sprints now that Bynum is back and fatigue is less an issue.  My point being, speed up the game to get some easier baskets.  Detroit will allow this to happen as their not a strong defensive team and dont’ have the size to really contest shots in the open court.

At this point, with the Lakers playing the way that they are, no game should be taken for granted and no oppenent should be considered an easy out.  As I mentioned earlier, Detroit has hung tough in their recent games and tonight they’ll be looking for revenge due to the beat down LA laid on them on their home court.  That said, Detroit isn’t a good team and there’s no better night to get back on track than against this type of team in comfort of Staples Center.  Here’s hoping it gets done.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on Fox Sports West.  Listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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