Ah, remember the Bucks? While to the average fan the Detroit Pistons' previous contest against fellow Central division also-ran Jan. 12 was just one of Detroit's 17 losses. But I remember it as Greg Monroe's coming out party (you better believe I'll celebrate the Moose-iversary next year). 32 points on 12-of-16 shooting and 16 rebounds against a respectable big man like Andrew Bogut. Performances like that from your franchise cornerstone make losing a lot easier to swallow. Can Monroe repeat the dominance? If he does, it won't be against Bogut, who is out with a fractured ankle (just like Charlie V.?). The Pistons are also without Ben Gordon, Will Bynum and maybe Austin Daye.
Game Tips at 8:00 P.M. EST
Milwaukee Bucks: 8 - 11 (5 - 2 home)
Detroit Pistons: 4 - 17 (1 - 9 road)
Tonight's contest will be the first in a back-to-back-to-back road trip that will take the Pistons to Milwaukee, New York and New Jersey. All three are winnable games but the Pistons won't and shouldn't be favored in any. The Bucks are a cautionary tale, or should have been any way, in that they built their team up just well enough to be mediocre and don't have the flexibility to do anything but shuffle around the margins of their roster. Basically, they are the Pistons best-case scenario, which is frightening. As horrible as being an underachieving team is, it is better for the future be in a position to draft players such as Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight than it is to draft players such as Larry Sanders and Jimmer Fredette (pick traded to Kings).
While head coach Scott Skiles is a defensive-minded taskmaster, this year the Bucks have really struggled at that end of the court. After a couple years as a top-five defensive squad, Milwaukee ranks 19th in defensive efficiency and are just starting to adjust to the absence of their best defender in Bogut, who will be out for around three months.
Keys to the Game:
Watch out for Drew Gooden - Greg Monroe has been up and down on defense all season, and if he's not careful Drew Gooden could do some damage. Gooden isn't the most intuitive NBA player, but he is blessed with some innate talents that allow him to be deathly effective when put in the right situations. Playing for the injured Bogut the past two games, Gooden put up 23 points and 15 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls and 23 points and 8 rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Watch out for Greg Monroe - On the other hand, physically, Gooden is the type of player Monroe should be effective against. He's not terribly strong or quick and doesn't block shots. If Monroe brings his A game, he could approach or even eclipse the career night he put up against Milwaukee in their first go-round. Monroe must protect the ball and avoid coughing it up when he enters the paint (watch out when Carlos Delfino and/or Brandon Jennings collapse on Monroe).
Brandon Jennings must be contained -- With Bogut out, everything in Milwaukee runs through Jennings. That means Brandon Knight can't get lost on defense and must fight through screens to keep from teammates needing to switch. When Detroit is able to stay mostly man-to-man, they've had solid stretches on D, when they are forced to switch, things break down very fast and they give up wide open jump shots or looks under the basket. As for offense, in his last seven games Knight has had roughly a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. That level isn't great, but it's where he needs to be to show he's making progress.
Keep Jon Leuer on the bench -- One of the more pleasant surprises of the rookie class this year is University of Wisconsin alum Jon Leuer. Drafted 40th overall, the 6-foot-10 forward is shooting 56 percent from the floor, largely on jump shots, and takes care of the basketball. That is why, if I'm a Bucks fan, I'm wondering why he only plays 16 minutes per game. I'm asking why he can go 9-for-11 for 19 points in 19 minutes against Chicago and then only play five minutes the next game against the Lakers. I'm just assuming that this is coach Skiles not trusting the rookie on the defensive end. While the Bucks obviously are a better team with him on the floor, It's not my problem if Skiles doesn't realize it. tHE Pistons need to go at Leuer as soon as he enters the game and see if they can staple his butt to the bench for the remainder.
Questions of the Game:
Brandon Knight -- more turnovers or more 3-pointers made? Stephen Jackson -- He's been awful this year save for a couple of games, including one against Detroit. Does he hurt the Pistons again? Who would you rather have as a GM going forward, Joe Dumars or John Hammond?