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Pistons vs. Cavaliers preview: Struggling Detroit hosts surging Cleveland

After an exhausting road trip, things don't get any easier for the Pistons back home, hosting LeBron James and the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Situation

The Pistons are back home, finally. Their six-game road trip is over, mercifully, and the Pistons find themselves with five wins and five losses.

Depending on one's perspective, that's either a solid start start to the season and a significant improvement from a year ago or a disappointing squandering of several what-might-have-been's if the Pistons had beaten the teams they should have. Or, maybe it's both.

On the one hand, if you had told me the day the preseason ended that the Pistons would emerge from their first ten games at 5-5, I'd have taken it, no questions asked. If you'd added that Andre Drummond played like one of the most dominant rebounding big men in history, I'd have been even happier.

On the other hand, almost everything else is trending the wrong direction, at least over the admittedly very small sample size of the last four losses. Almost no one is making shots, Reggie Jackson isn't playing like the point guard the Pistons need, and as a result, the Pistons offense is stagnant, predictable, and ineffective. Defensively, the Pistons still have good numbers on the whole, but those are trending downward, from top three in defensive efficiency to just inside the top ten.

Saying the Pistons need a win to stop the bleeding may be a bit of an overstatement, but saying they need a win isn't. They do. Soon.

Unfortunately, they have to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to get that next win, and winning won't be easy.

A year ago at this time, the newly LeBron James led (again) Cavs were a pedestrian 5-4 and on the cusp of a terrible late November - December of downright bad basketball. People were calling for David Blatt's head on a spike, for a Kevin Love trade, and general blow it all up nonsense.

Then, January happened, things started clicking, and the Cavs didn't look back.

In spite of having neither Kyrie Irving or Iman Shumpert, the Cavs are playing great basketball. LeBron is doing LeBron things, Kevin Love is doing Kevin Love things, and the role players like Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, Mo Williams, and Richard Jefferson (wait, what?) are filling in all their respective gaps.

The Cavs are for real, and frankly, are a very tough match up for these Detroit Pistons.

Keys to the Game

Run in transition: Surprisingly, the Pistons have played slowly. Against the Cavs, there are two good reasons to emphasize transition. First, the Cavs are older and slower, especially without Irving and Shumpert, and prefer to play at a slow pace. Running just isn't their strength. Second, the Cavs don't have much depth in the backcourt, and the Pistons should exploit this with Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in particular. Making the Cavs defend in transition may pay dividends when fatigue becomes an issue late.

Control the glass: With Andre' Drummond's play, this is a given most nights. However, the Cavs have better rebounders at the SF and PF positions, thanks to James, Mozgov, Love, and Thompson. I know it's a bit cliche, but rebounding must be a team effort against these Cavs.

Make shots: At some point, our guys will start making shots. There are good shooters on this roster. Might as well be tonight, right?

Question of the Game

If you were forced to own a LeBron James jersey (and were not allowed to alter it, say by burning it in a fire), would you want the Miami Heat version or the Cleveland Cavaliers version?