Preview and Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Darius Soriano —  February 3, 2013

Records: Lakers 21-26 (10th in the West), Pistons 18-29 (10th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.7 (7th in the NBA), Pistons 101.1 (17th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.3 (17th in the NBA), Pistons 103.3 (18th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Pau Gasol
Pistons: Jose Calderon, Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe
Injuries: Lakers: Jordan Hill (out for the season), Dwight Howard (questionable out); Pistons: none

The Lakers Coming in: The big question heading into this game is whether Dwight Howard will play. Dwight is back in Detroit with his teammates after flying to Los Angeles on Friday to receive a PRP (platelet rich plasma) injection into his shoulder to help relieve the pain he’s experiencing. D’Antoni says that if Dwight’s not in too much pain, he expects that he’ll play. And while the pain was considerably more (per Dwight) than the last time he re-aggravated his shoulder, I think he’ll be in the lineup today. The Lakers can certainly use him. (UPDATE: Dwight Howard will not play in today’s game, the Lakers have just announced. Obviously this changes the Lakers’ strategy in this game as Pau will need to man the post against a young, talented front line)

But even without Dwight, the Lakers did win their last game. With Pau back in the pivot full time, he had a nice game. He played all over the floor and was able to move in and out of the post with little encumbrance. Pau looked more comfortable on offense and used his length on defense to defend the post and show solid weak side help. Pau’s good play is just one of several positive trends lately, as the Lakers have won four of their last five games. With Kobe acting as a facilitator, the ball is moving, everyone is getting involved, and it’s also helped spearhead better defensive attentiveness.

All in all, it’s not a stretch to say the Lakers have been playing well. They need to do better at holding onto leads and not getting complacent as games go on. But if I had to choose, give me the team that gets up big and then has focus issues but still holds on to win (mostly) over the team that gets down big and then rallies late only to fall short. The Lakers have been the latter way too often this year, so the former doesn’t seem so bad to me.

The Pistons Coming in: The Pistons were in the news this week because they were the 3rd team in the trade that helped get Rudy Gay out of Memphis and to the Toronto. The Pistons received Jose Calderon from Toronto, sending Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye to Memphis in the process.

This trade reshapes Detroit by giving them a pure point guard to help run their team while also allowing the team to skew younger on the wing with Prince out of the mix. Calderon’s presence should only help bolster the front court production of Greg Monroe and rookie Andre Drummond (who has been playing very well this year in controlled minutes), as Jose is great at playing the P&R and picking out his teammates for good looks as they dive to the rim. The trade also slides Brandon Knight over and takes him off the ball full time. Knight is a fine young player, but is more of a combo guard who was placed into the PG spot rather than naturally taking to the role. Playing with and learning from Calderon should only help Knight become more of a playmaker over time and the hope is he can continue his growth and become the third pillar next to the Pistons’ two young bigs.

Pistons Blogs: Check out Piston Powered for great coverage on this team.

Keys to game: One of the reasons I think Dwight will play is because this is a game where his size is needed. The Pistons have a very good front court rotation and with Monroe and Drummond, two young and active bigs that can do damage inside. In a way, Monroe and Drummond are like younger versions of Gasol and Howard. Monroe is a skilled big who can face and post up, score in a variety of ways and is a good passer. Meanwhile, Drummond is an athletic marvel with great size who is mostly raw offensively, but beasts the paint on both ends by dunking a lot and blocking/altering shots.

Having Dwight helps sure up the Lakers’ frontcourt and allows them to better match up with this duo. Dwight also helps contain Calderon in the P&R, something the Lakers know first hand they need to be better about since they were carved up in Toronto just two weeks ago. Dwight’s ability to hedge and recover and be a deterrent at the rim would be a useful trait to have today, to say the least. That said, if Dwight doesn’t play, Pau will have to pick up the slack and I’d hope that we actually see Sacre today, rather than D’Antoni trying to play Jamison at center for even a short stretch. That won’t work against the big boys the Pistons have in their rotation.

Maximizing Kobe will also be a big part of today’s game. If the Pistons start Knight and Calderon, one of that duo will likely need to cover Kobe (likely Knight) and that creates a mismatch that can be exploited in the Lakers’ new offensive attack. Neither of those players can guard Kobe well in the post and that should allow him to either score if single covered or find open teammates when he draws multiple defenders. This will put onus on Ron and Earl Clark to hit jumpers — something that they’ve both struggled with lately — and they’ll also have to pick their spots well on when they should shoot and when they should pull the ball back and look to hit the post with quick entry. Either way, Kobe starting possessions with a smaller man should set up the Lakers’ offense well.

As should Nash working in the P&R. One thing the Lakers should try to do is attack Calderon defensively more. He’s not a good defensive player and he should be forced to navigate screens and chase Nash around for possessions at a time. This would help wear Calderon down and force him to worry about more than simply running the offense — especially since he’s on a new team and will need to put a lot of focus into running new sets.

It would also be good to try to continue to get Pau Gasol going on offense against Greg Monroe. Monroe, for all his promise as a player (and there is immense promise), is still not a very good defensive player and can be taken advantage of on that end of the floor. If Gasol can get some post touches to help create offense for himself and for others, it would go a long way in getting him engaged early and help boost the team’s performance.

Ultimately, this is another game the Lakers need to win if they’re serious about making a strong push this year. Detroit, even though they’re at home, are a beatable team. The Lakers need to string together some wins and can’t have the type of letdown they had against the Suns to start the trip. A win today moves them to 2-1 on their current trip and allows them to continue to build momentum heading into Tuesday’s game against the Nets. And while L.A. can’t afford to look ahead, they need to understand that today’s game is meaningful as part of their continued progression.

Where you can watch: 10:00am start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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