After landing in the Motor City Wednesday and enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner provided by none other than Kobe Bryant, the Lakers find themselves back on the court tonight facing the somewhat familiar Detroit Pistons. These two teams matched up nearly two weeks ago in a game that the Lakers were able to win going away 114-99. Since that game the Lakers have won 3 of their 4 games while the Pistons have since gone 3-3.
With these two teams playing so recently, there’s really not a lot that has changed in terms of match ups or X’s and O’s.
The Pistons have a young, athletic front line that can make plays in the paint on both sides of the ball. The also have back court players who, on any given night, can explode for points in bunches and a group of role players who can do the little things to help their team win. This translates to an offensive attack that is in the top half of the league and a recipe the Lakers must take seriously when defending.
What the Pistons also have, however, is one of the worst defenses in the league. While their trio of front court players have good athletic ability and can be good defenders in a vacuum, they can also get lost off the ball and don’t always rotate well as a group to cover for each other when one of them does attempt to help. This can lead to easy shots around the paint off the P&R and/or via offensive rebounding chances by big men and wings who crash from the backside. The Lakers would do well to try and exploit this all night by attacking the paint hard off the dribble and through their big men diving in the P&R in order to force help. This will then put the wheels in motion for the Pistons team rotations to be executed properly and, if this season is any indicator, this is when good shots can be had.
This makes four players quite critical for the Lakers offensive attack tonight: Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill. If these four can threaten the paint on a consistent basis, the Lakers’ wings should get the types of shots they can excel at. Said another way, if those four are doing their jobs, Jodie Meeks, Wes Johnson, Shawne Williams, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry should all get the ball in their preferred spots which should give them their best chance at success. (As an aside, Nick Young suffered a sprained finger on his left hand against the Nets, but will play tonight with a splint.)
Defensively, the Lakers’ game plan really is simple. They must crowd the paint, make solid rotations, and force the Pistons into long jumpers with defenders who are within arm’s reach contesting. In the last game Josh Smith did well to exploit this defense in the first half, but overall this tactic worked well as the game progressed and was a key reason — along with the Pistons’ dodgy defense — the Lakers were able to pull away and turn the game into a blowout late. If the team can neutralize Monroe’s post work and ensure that Drummond doesn’t get going off lobs and put backs, Detroit’s half court offense can stagnate and become over-reliant on Brandon Jennings and Smith to hit jumpers (or create off the dribble for themselves). If the Lakers can avoid having those players get all the way to rim when they put the ball on the ground, they’ve accomplished half of their goal.
The other key to this game is who can win the battle of the benches. The Lakers have one of best scoring benches in the league and come in with an advantage against most every team in this area. However, with Will Bynum likely back tonight and Rodney Stuckey having a bounce back year, the Pistons have the potential to put up a lot of points with their starters resting. The Lakers second group mustn’t just bring their typical offensive output, but will also need to protect the rim and get back in transition to avoid the runouts and fast break chances that can bury you on the road.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.