Preview & Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Darius Soriano —  March 6, 2012

Records: Lakers 23-14 (3rd in West), Pistons 12-26 (12th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.8 (14th in NBA), Pistons 99.7 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.9 (10th in NBA), Pistons 107.4 (25th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pistons: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe
Injuries: Lakers: none; Pistons: Charlie Villanueva (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Three straight wins for the Lakers coming out of the all-star break with three very good performances from Kobe and the rest of the team. And don’t look now, but the results of those wins now has the Lakers in first place in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference. There’s still a lot of season left, of course, and I don’t think any team (besides the Thunder) should be too comfortable with where they sit in the standings, but the Lakers can only feel good about where they are now and use it as motivation to continue to play well.

And for what it’s worth, the Lakers are starting to believe in themselves more. As Derek Fisher said after the Heat game, “the light finally went off that we believe we can win it,” with Kobe adding that the Lakers have finally figured out what they are on offense – a post up team – that must find ways to play to their strengths more while covering up their weaknesses. Whether or not this belief in themselves can trump some of the shortcomings of the players remains to be seen. However, intangibles such as trust in each other and confidence as a group are real, and if the Lakers can channel those into being greater than the sum of their parts, they may achieve more than what many think they can.

The Pistons Coming in: Losers of 4 of their last 5 games (with the lone win over the Bobcats), the Pistons don’t have a lot going for them at the moment. They have a mismatched roster, too many overpaid veterans, and there’s really not an easy solution in sight. Crazy to think how far this team has fallen in the past decade.

That said, not everything is bleak. Greg Monroe is one of the promising young big men in the league. The 2nd year Center has a well-rounded and polished offensive game and the work ethic to improve. Rookie guard Brandon Knight has good size and has shown that he has the skill level to be an NBA starting point guard. His promotion to the starting lineup has also allowed Rodney Stuckey to move to shooting guard, removing him from the position of having to run the team full time and allowing him to be a more natural scorer. And with Lawrence Frank leading them, there’s a nucleus here that could be a solid core moving forward.

These might be baby steps in bringing this team back to respectability, but that’s often how turnarounds happen. The only hope is that Joe Dumars can find a way to better put together a roster with more young players to have the team grow together.

Pistons Blogs: Piston Powered does a great job covering the team from the Motor City. Give their stuff a read and learn up on tonight’s foe.

Keys to game: Not to be overly simple here, but the Lakers should win this game. They have more talent, more size, more experience…more everything. Even if you account for the Lakers being a shabby road team and the Pistons getting up for the lone visit by the Lakers this season, if this game is reasonably close down the stretch, then things have gone awry in some way.

The game plan should be pretty simple tonight: pound the Pistons inside repeatedly. For all of Greg Monroe’s growth as a player, his strong suit is still on the offensive side of the ball and he should be attacked and exploited on the other end. Bynum only needs to work hard for early post position, get big, and call for the ball. His superior girth and strength should amount to a solid option on every possession he’s in the game.

The same can be said of Gasol. Though Maxiell is a more rugged player who uses his body well, Pau has a distinct height and length advantage that can be used in the low and mid post to get good looks for himself and his teammates.

The Laker wings should also see touches on the block. With the Pistons starting Stuckey at SG, he’ll need to guard either Kobe or Ron (likely the latter) and he should be punished in the post and on the offensive glass early in the game to set the tone of how he’ll need to play on both ends of the floor tonight.

Defensively, the Lakers’ biggest goal should be containing dribble penetration and closing down the paint for both drives and post-up chances. The Pistons take the 4th most shots at the rim in the league (via HoopData), and will attack the paint if given angles and opportunities. The Lakers’ secondary help defenders must be ready to close off driving lanes and their big men must fight for position in order to deny deep post-ups from Monroe and Maxiell.

The Lakers would also do well to sag off Detroit’s wing players to make them shoot long jumpers, as they are in the bottom half of the league in three point field goal percentage while also shooting poorly from mid range. If the Lakers can keep them taking jumpers instead of getting to the rim (where they can not only score more easily but draw fouls on the Laker bigs) things should be fine.

Where you can watch: 4:30 start time on KCAL. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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