The Pistons will be looking to shake off Wednesday's crushing 93-85 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. Considering the myriad flaws on the Pistons roster, they match up relatively well against Memphis, who is without arguably their best player in former Michigan State Spartan Zach Randolph. The Pistons are expected to be without Will Bynum (foot) and Charlie Villanueva (ankle). But don't worry, Walker Russell Jr. is here to rescue the team! UPDATE: Rodney Stuckey is out tonight, so Russell Jr. will be the first guard off the bench. Uh oh.
It's also Super 70s night at the Palace, which features the awesome poster at the right to the first 10,000 fans as well as a halftime performance from Rose Royce singing "Carwash" and perhaps another song or two I've never heard of. Even if the Pistons lose, I look forward to hearing a bunch of corny 70s puns from Greg Kelser and George Blaha. Bonus points if an afro wig or giant gold jewelry enter the equation.
Game Tips at 7:30 P.M. EST
Detroit Pistons: 3 - 12 (2 - 4 home)
Memphis Grizzlies: 7 - 6 (2 - 4 road)
The Memphis Grizzlies were a hot pick before the season to join the upper echelon of the Western Conference, with many expecting the Los Angeles Lakers and defending champion Dallas Mavericks to take a step backwards. While the Griz have struggled to a 7-6 record, they have righted the ship lately, winning their last four. The Pistons are coming back home from an extremely winnable game in Minnesota that they let slip through their fingers. If Detroit, who has lost nine of its last 10, wants to avoid being the worst team in the league (does Detroit want to avoid it?), these are the kinds of games it has to pull out, especially on its home floor.
Keys to the Game:
Get Out to a Fast Start - Following Wednesday's defeat, with the Pistons running out of gas in the fourth quarter and snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, we will learn a lot from the first quarter of this game. On its current four-game winning streak, Memphis has been getting off to hot starts, scoring 56.7 first-half points. Detroit, meanwhile, has to shake off the bad taste from the Minnesota loss and show some resolve. The Pistons could either get run out of the gym within the first seven minutes of the game or dig deep and indicate they are ready to battle for four quarters.
Own the Paint - This is a big one for a lot of reasons. While starting center Marc Gasol is going to be a handful for the Pistons, Memphis only has one player that measures as tall as 6-foot-8 coming off the bench -- Dante Cunningham. By necessity the Grizzlies slide starting small forward Rudy Gay to the power forward position, where he gets about 20 percent of his minutes.
The only thing scarier than the defensive liabilities of the Pistons starting front court is the all-around liabilities of the Pistons big men off the bench. Jonas Jerebko and Jason Maxiell simply don't have the size and strength to compete. Memphis won't present nearly as many problems because of their own lack of size. Gay's speed might put Jerebko in his customary early foul trouble, but if he can make the refs swallow their whistles, Jerebko could have a nice game.
One thing Memphis' lack of size does is limit rebounding opportunities. It shouldn't surprise anyone that a team that is missing one of the NBA's premier rebounders in Randolph has struggled in this department. Memphis is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the NBA. Detroit doesn't shoot for a high percentage so it must get second-chance opportunities.
And while its lack of size has hurt its rebounding prowess, Memphis still manages to score a ton of points in the paint. While only scoring 93.5 points per game (17th in the league), the Grizzlies score 45.2 points in the paint, fourth most in the NBA. The Griz don't wow you with ball movement (27th in assists). They don't rely on 3-pointers and they don't care about getting to the free-throw line. They have a pretty basic offense predicated on getting inside looks. The Pistons must be aware of that fact and limit the Grizzlies' effectiveness.
Don't Turn the Ball Over - Whereas the Pistons have exactly zero players that average more than a steal per game, Memphis has five such players (including the injured Randolph). The Grizzlies play aggressive D, especially in the backcourt. Mike Conley is averaging 2.5 steals per game and Tony Allen is chipping in 1.7. Brandon Knight has not shown the ability to protect the ball and you better believe that the Grizzlies plan to take full advantage of that fact.
Tayshaun Prince Needs to Stay Hot - The Palace
Punching Bag Prince has been on fire lately, averaging 22.5 points in his last four games, including 29 points in the loss to Minnesota. Gay is making $15 million per year, but he isn't playing like a $15 million player. He's had a pretty "meh" year so far so this is a matchup the Pistons could win. For the Pistons to have a chance they need someone to actually make shots, and that person might as well be Prince.
Question of the Game:
What's the over/under on number of Pistons turnovers? Who will be the X-factor for Detroit? For Memphis? Will Marc Gasol have a better game against the Pistons than Kevin Love did?