Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
When: 8 p.m. ET; Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014
Watch: FS Detroit
Listen: 105.1 FM
Exceptionally Detailed Analysis
After ending their three-game losing streak with an overtime conquest of injury-riddled Oklahoma City last evening, Detroit faces perhaps its toughest opponent so far of the young NBA season tonight. Memphis won its first six games, and came back from a 26-point deficit on Thursday to beat Sacramento at the buzzer, 111-110. That was also the Grizzlies 18th straight win at the Forum. Incredibly, their only loss was one week ago at Milwaukee (93-92), one of the three teams the Pistons have beaten. (Brandon Knight secured that conquest for the Bucks by scoring over Courtney Lee, drawing a foul, and knocking down the free throw with 1.1 seconds left.)
Not surprisingly, Memphis again sports one of the league’s best defenses, allowing the fewest points (91.7 per game). While their deliberate offense gets the job done, center Marc Gasol has taken a larger role as a scorer, averaging a team-high 18.0 ppg. Power forward Zach Randolph and guards Mike Conley and Lee also score in double figures, with "Z-Bo" pulling down 10.4 rebounds and Conley dishing out 6.2 assists per contest. Prince has gotten the starting nod of late over Lee, who nevertheless is second only to Gasol in minutes played (33.6). Defensive ace Tony Allen has started every game.
Monday night the Grizzlies host the only other team currently with an 8-1 record – Houston. So if they understandably fall prone to looking past the Pistons, or endure another night when they struggle to score (Charlotte held them to 71 points on Nov. 1), the men from Motown might have a chance. If not, Memphis will look to extend its home winning streak to 20 when the Rockets land on Beale Street.
For Detroit, Andre Drummond has the size to bang inside with Gasol, but he must avoid the foul trouble that has often plagued him to date. Greg Monroe will also have his hands full with Randolph, but if he has to switch over to guard Gasol the task of stopping Memphis inside will get much harder. They also have another seven-footer in Kosta Koufos to challenge the Pistons’ interior defense.
While Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have played well of late, they will face the top defensive backcourt in the league in Allen and Conley. While he should be able to outmatch Prince at small forward, the Motor City offense could crash and burn if Josh Smith dominates the offense like he did in last year’s game at the Forum. In a game the Pistons led until a Gasol tip-in with 8.2 seconds left (and subsequently lost in overtime), Smith shot 7-23 (3-11 on threes).
Power Forward: Greg Monroe versus Zach Randolph. At age 33, there’s been no apparent decline in the productivity of the former Michigan State star. He’s actually been scoring more efficiently in the early going than he has in the past three years. Monroe is off to a great start, averaging 16.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He acquitted himself well versus the Grizz last season, averaging 17.5 ppg and eight boards to Z-Bo’s 16 ppg and 13 rpg. While it’s unlikely Moose can earn Detroit a big edge in this battle, it will certainly help their chances if he can hold his own.
Small Forward: Josh Smith versus Tayshaun Prince. While the former Piston has recently returned to a starting role, he is only sixth in minutes played (21.4 mpg). While he won’t be called on much for offense, if Smith leaves him open he can still make a three-pointer. On offense, Smith’s shooting has been even worse than last year, so it’s anyone’s guess whether he will score as efficiently as he did against the Thunder for two nights in a row.
Center: Andre Drummond versus Marc Gasol. Gasol has become the primary offensive option for Memphis, and has been shooting and getting to the line more than ever. He is also a capable passer (3.3 apg) and stalwart defender (1.6 blocks per game). Foul trouble has limited Drummond’s playing time, and his shooting (.410 percent) has been disappointing. But if he can stay on the floor and rebound well (14.2 rpg Per 36), that could help the Pistons stay close.
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings versus Mike Conley. He may never make an All-Star game, but Conley (16.6 ppg, 6.2 apg) has quietly become one of the NBA’s best point guards, getting the job done on both ends of the floor. After initially sputtering, Jennings is off to the races, producing at Conley’s level (16.4 ppg, 6.2 apg) in fewer minutes and making a blistering .474 percent of his three-pointers. He was the key cog in Friday night’s victory, and even received praise for his defense! He’ll face his most formidable challenge yet in Conley.
Shooting Guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope versus Tony Allen. Allen has never been a scorer, but he always makes life difficult for his opponent. After a miserable start, Caldwell-Pope has run hot and cold on offense. Nevertheless, for November he’s averaging 13.9 ppg and shooting .381 percent from beyond the arc.
Lee is the scoring leader off the bench, averaging 15.3 ppg and making an astounding .636 percent of his threes. Backing up Gasol is Koufos, and John Leuer spells Randolph, offering three-point range. Beno Udrih is the reserve point guard, and on the wings second-year Head Coach Dave Joerger calls on both Vince Carter and Quincy Pondexter.
D.J. Augustin had been Detroit’s key reserve (10.7 ppg, 2.9 apg), but his playing time has declined as Jennings has taken off, and his three-point accuracy has disappointed (.222 percent). Jonas Jerebko has carved out a regular role with his efficient scoring (.671 true shooting percentage) and hustle. On the wings Caron Butler and Kyle Singler see lots of minutes. When he’s hot, Butler can score in bunches, but when he’s not he often helps in other ways (held scoreless against OKC, he grabbed eight boards). Singler is still struggling to find his shot.
Keys to the Game
Memphis looks first to score inside, but can knock down open threes (.383 percent). The Pistons will have to match their defensive effort, which could be difficult after going into overtime last night. If they play tired, this game won’t be pretty. When he gets the ball, Smith needs to pass or head for the hoop rather than settle for jumpers against Prince. While he might be tempted to take over the game, Jennings needs to remember that forcing shots over Conley is a bad plan (he shot 2-14 in last January’s 112-84 shellacking at the Palace).
Can Jennings’ swag best Conley’s grit and grind?