Even without LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trail Blazers have an impressive, young roster that could challenge most of the league's teams on their own.
The Detroit Pistons have struggled against the Western Conference of late. They've lost 12 straight to WC teams, including seven straight to start this season. While Detroit would normally have little hope of ending this stretch against the talented Trail Blazers, Portland will be without LaMarcus Aldridge tonight, the team's stand-out star. This doesn't guarantee an easy victory for the Pistons, as Portland has plenty of firepower beyond their All-Star forward.
Game Tips at 7:30p.m. EST
Portland Trail Blazers: 6 - 7 (2 - 4 road)
Detroit Pistons: 3 - 11 (2 - 3 home)
Let's talk about that Portland firepower. It is balanced, it is efficient, it is effective. Portland's "small men" average 55 points per game with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nick Batum all shooting 46% from the field. They contribute 19, 17 and 17 points respectively, and their combined 3-point efficiency is a pretty startling 41%. That's tough to defend, as you'll find that plugging one hole only opens up another. You can't crowd the paint to limit penetration, and you can't stay tight on the perimeter to defend 3-point shooters. Like glue, the Pistons little guys will need to stick on Portland's trio as isolation and spot up defense will be critical tonight.
With Aldridge sidelined with a stiff back, Portland will start JJ Hickson and Meyers Leonard up front. Hickson is averaging a double-double this season and has continued the efficient scoring he's enjoyed since joining Portland last winter. Leonard has been respectable, although his rebounding and foul rate leave a bit to be desired. Portland's rookie big man will need to step up tonight to spell Lamarcus Aldridge, because he and Hickson alone don't match the scoring contributions of Detroit's Greg Monroe.
If Detroit can aptly defend Batum, Matthews and Lillard tonight and hold them to their season averages, a strong performance from Greg Monroe could be enough to tip the game to Detroit's favor.
Keys to the Game:
Contain the Guards: If Batum, Matthews and Lillard aren't at least challenged, this game could be over with very quickly.
Feed the Moose: Pistons games are at least watchable when Greg Monroe is running the offense. They're more effective too. Monroe averaged 39 minutes and 18 shot attempts in Detroits wins over Toronto and Philly.
CAPSLOCK: A MONROE/DRUMMOND FRONTCOURT COULD NEUTRALIZE PORTLAND'S ADVANTAGE IN THE BACK COURT. A SHOT BLOCKER COULD LIMIT PENETRATION ATTEMPTS, AND DRUMMOND'S OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING COULD ALSO CAUSE PROBLEMS FOR THE GLASS SPECIALIST IN JJ HICKSON.
Question of the Game:
Portland will feature two rookie starters tonight. How long until Detroit does the same? Jason Maxiell's early performance makes it difficult to change things up front, but things seem to be quieting down in that regard...
UPDATE: ignore everything I said in this entire article-- Lamarcus Aldridge is in fact playing tonight.