With a continued focus tonight, the Pistons could move closer to finishing the month of February with a 10-4 record. Wins over Cleveland tonight, Toronto tomorrow and Charlotte next Wednesday would give Detroit a 71% winning record for the month. The last time Detroit had a month like this, it was on the shoulders of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace and a young rookie named Rodney Stuckey. It hasn't felt this good to be a Pistons fan since April of 2008, when Detroit finished out its final month with a 7 and 2 record.
You could argue that the Pistons rarely have a schedule like this one. With the exception of San Antonio, Detroit has faced little more than lottery teams with records as bad or worse than its own. Boston is not only hobbled, but playing its way into the lottery. Philadelphia is the only other team that should be a serious challenge to Detroit this month, but even they have struggled of late. If you told me that the Pistons will have won 11 games and lost 3 this month, I certainly shouldn't be surprised.
Yes, the schedule has helped, but Detroit deserves credit. The Pistons teams of old were so good at giving up losses to bad teams that had no business winning. Now, at least, they're doing a great job at winning games that are certainly within their sights.
Game Tips at 7:00p.m. EST
Detroit Pistons: 11 - 22 (3 - 12 road)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 12 - 17 (7 - 8 home)
The Cavaliers will be without their best defender, flopper and rebounder tonight-- Anderson Varejao is out with a broken right wrist. Without Varejao, the Cavaliers are razor thin up front, relying on Semih Erden to start in his place. Due in part to foul trouble and a general inability to play center, Erden hasn't lasted in this role and Cleveland continues to move toward the inevitable-- starting rookie Tristan Thompson in his place.
Despite his glaring offensive struggles, Thompson feels pretty comfortable with rebounds, blocks and dunks. After Erden got yanked with foul trouble on Sunday against Sacramento, Thompson filled in with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks in 29 minutes. His play in February is forcing the short-handed Cavaliers to consider giving him his first career start, and who knows-- it may even happen tonight against Detroit.
If that doesn't happen, expect Greg Monroe to have a field day with the Cavs' anemic front line. Antawn Jamison can score in droves, but he doesn't put much effort into the defensive end. Semih Erden might as well mean "Euro Stiff" in Turkish, and his propensity to foul will give Moose an opportunity to work on that free throw shooting that has soured of late. As it stands now, Detroit should dominate the front line match-up with Maxiell and Moose on Erden and Jamison.
In the backcourt, the recent play of Rodney Stuckey could edge this one for Detroit. While Kyrie Irving may have started the season hot, he and Brandon Knight are nearly neck and neck in February production. Neither point guard can hold a candle to Cleveland's backup point guard, however. Some young fellow named Ramone Sanford or something like that is averaging 14 points and 8 assists with lights-out 55% shooting from the perimeter this month. Now that's a f--king point guard.
Keys to the Game:
Feed the Moose - What else is new, right? Yes, Greg didn't do a great job with the 17 attempts he was given on Sunday, but his groove will be easy to find tonight. Semih Erden should be a big red target for Monroe, and once Erden is out with foul trouble, The Moose can ride his size advantage to dominance in the paint.
Crash the Boards - The Cavaliers are one of the better rebounding teams in the league, unlike the Pistons. But without Anderson Varejao, Detroit has the upper hand. If Detroit wants to win this game, it can do so by boxing out and hustling for every loose ball like the game depends on it.
Slow it Down - Wait, what? Yes, I'm advocating a slow pace tonight. The Cavaliers have the best transition defense in the league, and Detroit has one of the league's worst transition offensive games (26th, in fact). Since Detroit is most effective on cuts to the basket and pick-and-rolls, it'd be a good night to rely on Greg Monroe as a distributor in the high post.
Question of the Game:
When the schedule turns tough next month, can Detroit maintain the momentum they've built in this month of winning?