The Lakers coming in: After losing to the Grizzlies on Friday, the Lakers fell to 4-7 on the year. The loss also marked the 4th loss in the team’s last 5 games with three of those losses coming by double digits (though, to be fair, the loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans was much closer than the final margin suggests).
While losing games at this rate is frustrating, I cannot say that the games themselves are truly discouraging. Maybe it is because the team is playing hard. Maybe it is because on almost every night another Laker steps up to have a good game or that we see continued growth from one (or more) rotation player. Or maybe it is because the expectations for this team weren’t that high to begin with and as Kobe continues to miss games, the idea of this team even being in games is enough to sustain me. Probably all of the above, I guess.
In any event, this team continues to inch forward, showing progress in some areas (the starters are pretty good on offense) while moving sideways or regressing in other areas (Jordan Farmar’s recent games have not been pretty). Maybe things will get better when Kobe returns (with him returning to practice, we are getting closer to that date) or maybe they won’t. That’s the riddle to this year where there are so many unknowns combined with a definite feel of transitioning to a time ahead rather than the full focus being on the now.
The Pistons coming in: There may not be a more remade team this season than the Pistons. Armed with cap space and a desire to get back into the playoffs, Joe Dumars chased name brand players to improve his roster. The result was signing former Hawk Josh Smith to a big money deal and then trading for Brandon Jennings who had worn out his welcome in Milwaukee. Combined with those “big” splashes, Detroit also brought back Chauncey Billups and nabbed Luigi Datome from overseas.
All of this tinkering, however, hasn’t brought much better tangible results. Jennings and Smith combine with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to form an athletic and skilled starting lineup, but that’s also a group that doesn’t provide a lot of offensive spacing and indulges some of Jennings’ and Smith’s worst habits by putting them in position to launch long jumpers. Those two combine to take 11 three pointers a game, yet connect on only 3. That’s, uh, awful. Meanwhile, Monroe and Drummond are still making plays and their efficiency allows the team to still boast a quality offense (the Pistons are 11th in offensive efficiency).
Where the Pistons are struggling, though, is defensively. With Smith and Drummond anchoring their D and Jennings, who is consistently one of the better steals guy in the league, lurking on the wing, you’d think they’d be better than they are. Instead they rank last in the league in defensive efficiency (as a comparison, the Lakers rank 16th) and cannot seem to get stops.
All in all, this team has some talent and may find their stride at some point this year. However, they may need to make a trade to better balance their roster and to put some of their front court players (mainly Josh Smith) into a more natural position to get better results.
Keys to the game: If you look at this game on paper, you’d probably give the edge to the Pistons on talent. Detroit has youth and athleticism on their side as well as brining players with 1st round pedigrees who should still be on the ascent in their respective careers.
They have an especially strong front court with the Smith, Monroe, Drummond trio and offer depth beyond that with players like Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler who offer above average skill and good versatility. Add to those guys some explosive back court players — Jennings, Will Bynum, rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and mainstay Rodney Stuckey — and there’s an opportunity for Detroit to find their stride offensively and not look back tonight.
That said, the games aren’t played on paper and if the Lakers come into this game with discipline and attention to detail on both sides of the ball, they have a good opportunity to win this game with potential to run away with it.
This starts with the right plan defensively. As mentioned above, the Pistons are a very good offense and, when at their best, attack the paint through their bigs while also having guards who can break their man down off the dribble. What the Pistons don’t do well is shoot the outside shot, however. So the Lakers must find the right balance between pressuring the ball while also sagging off just enough to invite their man to shoot long jumpers. This is especially true for Wes Johnson and Steve Blake who will be guarding Smith and Jennings. Those guys are capable of getting hot, so they can’t be ignored outright, but they must prove they can hit the shots before they be pressured fully on the wing.
Sagging off those two should allow the Lakers to cut off penetration lanes and sag down towards the paint to help on Monroe and Drummond. Monroe is especially skilled from the elbows and the shallow baseline area where he’s able to use the threat of his jumper to create off the dribble to get to the rim or to get a step on his man to create a post up chance off the bounce. Drummond, meanwhile, is an athletic monster who can use his combination of quickness and power to get shots near the basket and finish above the rim via lobs and put-backs. These two must be crowded and showed extra defenders when they’re in threat positions to either make them passers or to force them to score in a crowd.
Offensively, the Lakers need to find a way to counter the size the Pistons have inside. Drummond has the ability to alter shots inside, not only when he’s guarding his own man but when helping on penetration. The Lakers must be smart in how they deal with him, with the best strategy likely coming through involving him in P&R’s and then either diving behind him or popping away from him for jumpers. Based off who he’s guarding (I imagine he guards Hill), I hope to see a lot of that action with the Lakers forcing the rest of the Pistons’ D to go through their rotations. If Monroe is left on Gasol, it would also be good for Pau to go inside a bit more than he has this season. Monroe offers good size, but he’s not a particularly strong defensive player and can be taken advantage of on the block by skilled players.
The other key to this game will be the battle of the backboards. The Pistons aren’t a good defensive rebounding team, likely because their bigs love to try and block shots from the weak side and no one covers for them when they do. The Lakers must look to get on the offensive glass frequently and get the second chance points that come with them. If Jordan Hill can grab his usual number of rebounds on that end, he can either set up his own easy shots or kick the ball back out to shooters who can get open looks against a scrambling defense.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.