The Pistons are entering the home stretch. No more worries about players possibly being traded. We know who will be on the team. We know the playoffs are the longest of long shots. And we know that the first game post deadline is a doozy -- the Pistons have to face the stifling defense of the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers have flat-out dominated the Pistons this year including a 98-79 beatdown in the last meeting of these two clubs. This shouldn't surprise anyone as the Pacers are home to the NBA's best defense and while they've flown under the radar all season might be the only team in the East that has a chance to stop the Miami Heat from returning to the NBA Finals. The last time the Pistons played an elite defense they got smoked by the Grizzlies.
Why is the Pacers defense so good? Instead of a long-winded analysis I'll just point out some of the categories where they currently rank in the top 5.
- Defensive efficiency (1)
- Opponents points per game (1)
- Opponents fast break points (1)
- Opponents points in the paint (1)
- Opponents assists per game (2)
- Opponents 3-point percentage (1)
- Opponents 2-point percentage (1)
- Opponents DReb percentage (4)
- Blocks per game (3)
These two teams are poised to look different tonight and there is no telling who will get the advantage from the lineup shuffling. The Pistons are expected to be without Brandon Knight, who hurt his knee and ankle in his team's victory over the Bobcats on Wednesday. He was having one of his best games of the year against Charlotte but has struggled all year, especially so since shifting into the starting shooting guard role.
The Pacers, meanwhile, might have Danny Granger active for the first time this season. The seven-year pro is recovering from a knee injury but the Pacers have largely replaced his production with the emergence of both Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
Granger has been his team's offensive leader his whole career. Last season despite shooting a career-worst 41 percent from the field he hoisted more than 200 shots more than anyone else on his team. Can he reintegrate himself into the team without making a decidedly poor offense even worse? Or can he improve it enough to make them legit title contenders?
Keys to the Game
Monroe at his Moosiest -- Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva have largely been no-show since Andre Drummond went down. Monroe needs to step up big time. He is averaging 18.5 points and 10 rebounds in his last four matchups with the Pacers. But he is also going to have to help contain David West who has scorched the Pistons this year to the tune of 18.5 points on 60 percent shooting.
Chemistry problems? -- The Pacers are ranked 24th in offensive efficiency and if Granger struggles in his first game back, and if Paul George and David West defer too much to their de facto team leader. And if, and if ....
Rodney Stuckey -- If Stuckey returns to the starting lineup to replace an injured Knight maybe we'll get a glimpse at vintage Stuckey and not the 2012-13 model.