Pistons vs. Timberwolves: Kevin Love back to lead struggling Wolves

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a hot start, Minnesota has lost seven of its past nine. After a cold start, Detroit has won six of its past nine.

Game time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: Fox Sports Detroit | Radio: 97.1 FM The Ticket

The Situation

The Pistons are looking for a rare win against the West as they face the struggling Timberwolves tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Minny has lost seven of nine and six of its past seven on the road. Detroit, meanwhile is looking to rebound after being easily handled by the Miami Heat, and hopes to build on recent strong play on both ends of the floor.

The match-up between the two teams stacks up favorably for Detroit. Minnesota plays at one of the fastest paces in the league, and Detroit is also at its best when running up and down the court. In the past, when teams have forced the issue on Detroit, the Pistons have generally responded well, at least at the offensive end, by trying to equal their opponent's pace.

The Wolves also generally struggle from 3-point land despite hoisting from deep 24 times per game, and don't convert from mid-range at a high rate, both are areas the Pistons have struggled against so far this season. What they do well, however, is steal the ball, score in transition, score in the paint by moving the the ball around and creating easy opportunities near the basket.

The Pistons, meanwhile, are an even more paint-focused team, and need to exploit Minnesota's frontline defense. Neither Nikola Pekovic nor Kevin Love are athletic shot blockers, averaging 0.4 and 0.3 blocks, respectively. This bodes well for Greg Monroe, who has struggled with his shot of late, but tends to feast on team's that can't use athleticism and size to negate his quick first step and craftiness around the rim.

Also, considering the big men and the shooters in Minnesota, there is no reason to think Andre Drummond won't be in line for a monster game. Considering the expected pace, rebounding opportunities and athleticism advantage, Dre could seriously contend for a 20-point, 20-rebound outing that he has been so close to a few times already this season.

Keys to the Game

Ricky Rubio vs. Brandon Jennings: One thing I failed to mention up top was that might prove to be the biggest individual matchup of the game is between Rubio and Jennings. Ricky Rubio is not only a crafty playmaker for his teammates, he's also the second-best pick pocket in the NBA. He averages three steals a game in a league where only nine players average as many as two. And as seen in the Miami game, Jennings is prone to careless ballhandling, and when pressured or double-teamed is susceptible to either coughing up the ball or desperation passes that are easily swiped by the opposition. Needless to say, we need Jennings to be near the top of his game tonight.

And if he's struggling, the Pistons might finally have a safety valve to fall back on as Chauncey Billups is going to return to action tonight, and Rodney Stuckey says his knee pain is gone and he might play as well. Both can steady the ship and initiate the offense in place of or alongside Jennings. That being said, I hope Billups is primarily used in backcourt pairings with Stuckey, as the Billups-Jennings combo is just too leaky on defense.

Who guards Kevin Love: Love is a great player who can really hurt opponents in two ways -- from the 3-point line and with an excellent eye for grabbing offensive rebounds and good enough touch around the basket to convert those second chances into easy baskets. How Detroit decides to defend these threats will be interesting. The team could opt to stick Greg Monroe on Love, but Monroe will have trouble all night chasing Love out to the 3-point line. They could instead opt to stick Monroe on Pekovic and let the athletic Drummond run out and bother Love's long-range attempts, but that removes Detroit's strongest rebounder and paint presence.

Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds: I can't stress the importance of rebounds enough. Minnesota is bad shooting team and an even worst 3-point shooting team, yet they eke out an above average offense thanks to offensive rebounds. Love and Pekovic both average 3.8 offensive boards per game and shoot nearly 12 free throws (and both convert at a high rate). Without these second-chance, easy opportunities, the team relies on the underrated Kevin Martin for the majority of its offense. If Detroit wins the battle of the boards, then it will probably win the battle of the bigs and likely come out of the game with a victory.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is exactly the kind of game that Drummond can single-handedly win for the Pistons. No pressure, big fella.

Question of the Game

How great would it be to see Kevin Love alongside Andre Drummond? Just sayin'. He's one of the few players I'd entertain trading Monroe for. And with that, I hope to see a flood of NBA Trade Machine links in comments.

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