The last time the Pistons beat the Lakers at the Palace (March 6, 2012), Rodney Stuckey outplayed Kobe Bryant to spark an 88-85 victory. He scored 34 points (13-20 on field goals, 7-7 on free throws) to lead all scorers, and his sweet step-back jumper against Kobe made the highlight reels. Remember this play?
Good times. Unfortunately, there have not been nearly enough of them for the Detroit faithful the past few years, and Stuckey has often been part of the problem. But that’s not true this season. He leads all Pistons’ scorers with 16.6 points per game on a True Shooting Percentage of .610. It’s his best start ever, and it’s hard to imagine that the Motor City would have six wins without his scoring prowess. His 25 points on 16 shots was virtually the only bright spot in the Wednesday night loss to the Bulls.
Stuckey won’t have an opportunity to reprise that sweet move on Bryant tonight, because the Los Angeles star is still rehabbing from his Achilles tendon tear last April. He recently signed a $48.5 million deal that will keep him a Laker for two more years, and hopes to return to action on the court in early December.
Los Angeles has performed better than most pundits expected after the loss of both Bryant to injury and Dwight Howard to Houston. They sport an 8-8 record, having gone on a 4-1 streak that began with a 114-99 victory over Detroit on Nov. 17. They beat Golden State and Sacramento at home, lost at Washington, and beat Brooklyn 99-94 Wednesday night. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s charges are fourth in the NBA in pace and 3-point shooting percentage (.409). They made 13-30 against the Nets, with Jordan Farmar and Nick Young coming off the bench to hit 9-13 threes. Young led all scorers with 26, and Pau Gasol added 21 points and eight rebounds.
Power Forward: Greg Monroe versus Pau Gasol. After a slow start, Gasol has come on strong the last few games. He’s averaging 14.9 points, 10.1 boards and 3.1 assists. Monroe’s play has been more uneven of late, and he was a nonfactor (five points, three rebounds) against Chicago. His 17-point game in Los Angeles was chiefly marred by a 1-8 disaster at the free throw line. The Pistons need a strong performance from the Moose to win this game.
Small Forward: Josh Smith versus Wesley Johnson. Johnson’s play has yo-yoed up and down, with six games of double figure scoring and seven of five points or less. One of his better outings was his 13-point game against Detroit earlier this month. So far, Smith is having arguably his worst season as a pro, but he had one of his most efficient games against the Lakers, and he needs to show up big tonight.
Center: Andre Drummond versus Jordan Hill. Hill got his first start the last time these two teams played, and produced like an All Star – 24 points and 17 boards. While he hasn’t come close to scoring like that, he has averaged over 10 rebounds per game since then. Drummond remains solid in the middle with nearly 12 points and 12 rebounds per game, but he hasn’t blocked a shot in the Pistons last three contests.
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings versus Steve Blake. At age 33, Blake is having a career year for Lose Angeles, averaging 7.4 apg. His 16 assists last time were huge, as he repeatedly found open shooters. Jennings is also at a career high in assists (8.1), but has yet to get his shooting percentage (.372) up to his anemic pro average (.393). If he can show up like he did against the Bucks (15 points, 13 assists), Detroit’s chances of winning will increase significantly.
Shooting Guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope versus Jodie Meeks. Meeks is connecting on .468 percent of his threes, and his 19 points was a key contributor in the last Lakers’ victory over Detroit. He's not Kobe Bryant,
but so he's scoring efficiently. Coming off a disappointing scoreless effort (0-4 in 19 minutes) against Chicago, the Pistons need a solid game at both ends of the floor from their rookie.
Bench: Los Angeles’ bench has played a major role in their recent resurgence, with Young (14.1 ppg) and Farmar (9.5 ppg, 4.8 apg) performing even better than the starters. For Detroit, Stuckey has been the only consistent force. Will Bynum has returned to action, but has provided none of the offensive spark he’s known for. Kyle Singler remains the other key reserve, but coach Maurice Cheeks has also given significant minutes of late to Josh Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko, and Charlie Villanueva.
Keys to the Game
When these teams played in Los Angeles, Detroit’s defense hemorrhaged points, as the home team made .522 percent of their shots. After the loss to Chicago, Coach Maurice Cheeks made his team practice on Thanksgiving Day, primarily to focus on their leaky defense. It’s hard to see how the Pistons can win this game if their defense doesn’t curtail the Lakers’ hot shooting. On offense, Detroit has to find a way to play an inside-outside game that will create more space for open shots. A win would show that the Pistons are capable of beating a team that doesn’t have a losing record.