Records: Lakers 28-7, Pistons 13-23
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.1 (4th), Pistons 109.3 (13th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (4th), Pistons 111.8 (23rd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Pistons: Tim Frazier, Svi Mykhailiuk, Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya, Andre Drummond
Injuries: Lakers: Alex Caruso (questionable); Pistons: Blake Griffin (questionable), Reggie Jackson (out), Luke Kennard (out), Markief Morris (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: A 10-point win over the Pelicans on Friday was the Lakers 4th in a row. Led by Anthony Davis’ 46 points, Danny Green’s hot shooting night (25 points, 6 made 3’s), and LeBron’s 15 assists, the Lakers were able to control the game for the majority of the night. The team has, in a lot of ways, steadied themselves after their 4 game losing streak near the end of 2019.
Where things aren’t quite as solid as they need to be is with the team’s bench based units. Those groups, particularly when Rondo is tasked with organizing the team’s offense, have not looked steady in the past few games and have been unable to maintain some of the big leads the starters have handed them. While the Lakers have still been able to win these games, the recent rumors of the team looking at veteran point guards — either via trade or because one might be willing to come out of retirement — seem spot on in terms of what the team has been lacking of late.
On the injury front, Alex Caruso returned to practice on Saturday, but it’s not yet clear if he’ll be back in the lineup tonight. His lingering calf issue isn’t considered serious, but it has been flaring up lately — limiting his minutes vs. the Suns and keeping him out vs. the Pelicans. The Lakers could use his hustle, defense, and secondary ball handling but I’d rather him be healthy than try to push through things.
The Pistons coming in: The Pistons sit at 13-23 and a disappointing 10th in the East. This week their owner went on the record saying that it may be necessary to “take a step back” in order to move forward as an organization and, not coincidentally, it was then reported that Detroit and Atlanta were discussing potential trade scenarios involving Pistons big man Andre Drummond.
A reason the Pistons are so bad is that they really cannot stay healthy. Blake Griffin has only played in half the team’s games this season, dealing with various lower body ailments that have plagued him for the latter half of his career (and, honestly, date back to his knee issues from when he was a rookie). Starting point guard Reggie Jackson is also injured right now, as is starting shooting guard Luke Kennard. With this many players hurt, the Pistons really don’t field a true NBA team, rather they throw out some good role players, Drummond, and Derrick Rose — who is forced to be a backup because he’s basically on a minutes restriction.
With that, the Pistons are what they are. A team that, if healthy, could compete for a playoff spot because they actually have some talent. But, they’re not healthy, so they’re now looking at dumping Drummond because he can (and likely will) opt out of his contract this summer in order to seek a massive payday in a weak free agent class. Bad times in Motown.
Keys to the game: So, I saw this Pistons team in person on Saturday night when they beat the Warriors. This not at all healthy version of the Pistons is not good. Drummond is a massive human being who rebounds like crazy and can score on dives in the P&R, put backs, and the occasional post up. Rose can still be a difference maker as a scoring lead guard who still has great quickness at the point of attack and in transition. But…that’s it. The rest of this roster is a bunch of 8th through 12th men who have been pushed up into roles that are too big for them.
So, the Lakers should win this game. Not just because of the talent discrepancy, but because the Pistons are on the 2nd night of a back to back, are playing their 3rd game in 4 nights, and have been on the road since December 28th (with this game being their 5th of a 6 game road trip). My feel of them is that they’re weary and undermanned.
This Detroit team is vulnerable in the paint — particularly on the 2nd unit when Drummond is out. That group plays Thon Maker and Christian Wood in the front court, two players who lack bulk and can be pushed around in the paint both in the post and on the backboards. If Dwight, AD, JaVale, and LeBron play with energy, they should feast inside in non-Drummond minutes by attacking the rim via P&R dives/lobs and on the offensive glass. This is a game where the Lakers should absolutely not settle for long jumpers and instead reset their offense if things break down and go to the paint time and time again.
To counter this type of approach, I do think the Pistons will play some zone. They played a standard 2-3 zone against the Warriors on Saturday, but got out of it when the Warriors hit a couple of shots and attacked it early. If the Lakers are methodical and attack the middle of the zone, they’ll be fine. If they don’t and instead settle for 3’s that clank, I’d imagine Detroit sticks with it longer.
Again, though, none of this should matter much. If the Lakers bring the requisite effort defensively, especially against Rose at the point of attack, and close out on Svi, Snell, and Doumbouya (who shot with confidence vs. the Warriors), they can build a lead and ride it all the way home. The question will then only become if the bench fixes their yips. Again, though, this is based on if the Lakers come out and actually play hard. If they don’t, all bets are off.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com