Detroit Pistons (11-14) vs. Indiana Pacers (20-3) | Game Time: 7 p.m. EST | TV: Fox Sports Detroit
The Pistons were the better team for most of Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, but a familiar fourth-quarter collapse both offensively and defensively doomed them, and Detroit eventually fell in overtime to the best team in the West. But there were many encouraging signs during the game and if the Pistons can learn how to close they have a puncher's chance against the Eastern Conference's best team.
The Pistons played an encouraging brand of basketball for about 40 minutes and then completely fell apart against the Blazers. Suddenly, a potent big-man attack became a guard-oriented horror show and the team went from hoovering up every loose ball to suddenly giving up gobs of second-chance points. But the chemistry and the recipe were there. Josh Smith ate defenders alive in the paint and Brandon Jennings was dishing assists to open men everywhere, especially Andre Drummond in a nice pick-and-roll game.
More of that, please. But the team still needs to learn how to close games, and if Jennings isn't up to the task it is incumbent on coach Mo Cheeks to find that closer elsewhere -- either Chauncey Billups or Rodney Stuckey can play point guard, initiate the offense and find open shots for the big men. Of course, it is always easier said than done, and while doing it against a top-tier team such as the Blazers was encouraging, doing it against the NBA's best defense is going to be considerably harder.
Keys to the Game
Smith vs. George: Josh Smith had one of the best games of his life against the Blazers, using both his size and quickness to back down and spin around defenders in the post. He finished the game going 13-for-17 (with only three shots outside of eight feet) and notched 31 points. But Paul George might be the NBA's best on-ball defender and will make Smith's offense much more difficult to come by. But he also has a multi-faceted offensive game that could abuse Smith from the perimeter as well as cutting to the basket. George is coming off a horrible game against the Bobcats (2-of-12 shooting), hopefully it carries over into tonight. If the Pistons somehow win this matchup, they have a chance to come out with a victory.
Offensive rebounding: The Pistons will most likely not be allowed to shoot for a high percentage, so the team will have to grab boards that lead to easy put-backs at the rim or another chance to initiate the offense. The Pistons also need to turn the Pacer offense into a one-and-done affair and grab every defensive board in sight.
Easts best centers: Roy Hibbert would probably win the vote of the best center in the Eastern Conference if not all of the NBA. If Andre Drummond wants to take that crown he is going to have to earn it. Drummond thrives on offense thanks to converting at an absurdly high percentage near the rim, but nobody is a better rim protector in the NBA than Hibbert. This battle, hopefully, won't be for the faint of heart.
Questions of the game
What will Josh Smith's shot chart look like tonight? Shots within eight feet? Shots outside of eight feet?