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Our NBA Season Begins: Pistons at Pacers game preview

It feels like forever, doesn't it Detroit. Thanks to a prolonged NBA lockout, Pistons fans missed a Summer League, a full-length preseason and an October start date. The timing couldn't have been worse, because as the 2010-11 NBA season closed, there appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Detroit. The sale of the Pistons had been finalized, the troubled coach had been replaced and it appeared that the Pistons had found the centerpiece for their next generation. The lone positive of the 2010-11 season, rookie Greg Monroe, was enough for us fans to renew our subscription to what will likely be another difficult year.

The 2011-12 NBA Season tips tonight for the Detroit Pistons, starting at 7:00 P.M. EST at the Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Yeah, they changed the name of their stadium to "Banker's Life" Fieldhouse. No 99%ers allowed.

The Situation

It is possible, but not probable, that the Pistons could have done worse in free agency this month. Fans can celebrate the return of Jonas Jerebko and the mutual parting with Richard Hamilton. Then again, without the salary commitment to Hamilton, Detroit would have a hard time spending $55M on two players it didn't need. Detroit has needed a change at point guard and small forward for years, and it finally had the talent ready to replace or upgrade last season's production-- on the cheap. Instead, this team-in-transition has kept its focus on mediocre veterans, not the youth movement that is the only thing that will ultimately turn this team around.

In Indiana, the Pacers situation is quite the opposite. They put up an impressive fight against the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, they have a capable new coach and a pretty impressive collection of talent. Starters Daren Collison, Paul George and Roy Hibbert all remain on rookie contracts, while Danny Granger and David West bring All Star resumes to the fold. While Granger once showed a lot of potential, he's struggled with his shot for two seasons in a row. West, who is unlikely to suit up tonight after an off-season knee surgery, is a bit too pedestrian for his $10M/yr. contract. The investment is shorter in term, but curious given the late season drive of then-sophomore Tyler Hansbrough.

Coming off a 37-win season, the Pacers have the potential to approach or eclipse a .500 record in 2011-12. They've got offensive firepower at all five starting positions and weapons on the bench ready for rotation. On defense, not so much. If Indiana can maintain a fast pace for the season ahead (they were a fraction behind Golden State in 2010-11), they can take advantage of their talent and mitigate some of their defensive weaknesses.

Things to Watch

Monroe Vs. Hibbert - While Detroit arguably has the better Georgetown product, the two young centers are still very much in development. They weren't played on each other for more than short stretches last season, but that will likely change tonight. Hibbert has the size advantage and a knack for shot blocking, but Monroe is a superior rebounder and a much more efficient scorer. Monroe started last season slowly, and he could have his "lockout legs" on tonight, but fans would love to see Moose pick up where he left off in April.

Detroit's Starting Lineup - Will Lawrence Frank start Brandon Knight at point guard tonight? Chances are that Rodney Stuckey will open the season at the point, an option that won't excite many Pistons fans. The issue will be who starts at the 2 against the 6'10" Paul George (dude grew 2 inches in the offseason). If Frank is worried about that defensive matchup, Austin Daye would be a wise choice. The rest of the lineup is pretty straightforward, given that Detroit will be without Charlie Villanueva tonight, who is serving corn dogs a four game suspension for fighting with a Coldstone store manager Ryan Hollins of the Cavaliers.

Keys of the Game

Speed it up - The Pacers play a fast game, and they've got the offensive firepower to be downright nasty. Just ask the Chicago Bulls. Since Detroit's defense can't be much better than it was last season, the Pistons should explore their own capacity for a run-and-gun offense. All of Detroit's guards are fast and gifted in penetration, the starting PF is a freak in the bedroom of nature and the man in the middle is as solid in facilitating as he is on the break. This should have been the plan for the last two seasons, and seeing it tonight would be a welcome surprise.

Feed the Moose - On a related note, let's actually give that big man the ball on offense. Find him in the post (or the top of the key), use him on pick-and-rolls, and let him make plays for Detroit's shooters. The last thing any Pistons fan should want to see is more Isolayshauns. Tayshaun Prince should not be the gatekeeper to the flow of Detroit's offense.

Have fun, share the ball - It's clear none of you had much fun playing basketball last season. Let's hope you can start the 2011-12 season with a different perspective. Yeah, there will be plenty of losses this season, but try to build on what you're doing right as the rest of the pieces (hopefully) fall into place as the roster evolves.

Question of the Game

Will fans see a new Detroit Pistons team tonight, or more of the same? Detroit's off-season moves reflected a backwards investment instead of a youth movement, but it's up to Larry Frank to decide how these pieces are used on court. Fingers' cross'd, Detroit.