Somehow, nearly one third of the NBA season has come and gone. Time flies when you're having fun, right? Through 25 games - 14 wins, 11 losses - even the most pessimistic Pistons fans (*cough*) have plenty to be excited about.
In fact, if the Playoffs started today, the Pistons would be inside looking out, somewhere they haven't been for the better part of a decade. But, the Playoffs don't start today, and there's a lot of work to be done between here and there.
Over the next several weeks, the Pistons will play several important games against other Eastern Conference Playoff hopefuls, including the Boston Celtics, the Atlanta Hawks, the Chicago Bulls, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Given that the bottom half the Eastern Conference is more competitive than most people predicted, every win counts - especially against teams from the East, where the Playoffs or a Lottery trip could be decided by a tie-breaker.
However, before the Pistons get to all those very important games against the Eastern Conference, they have to take on a formidable foe from out West, the Los Angeles Clippers. Even without Chris Paul, the Clippers proved to be a tough matchup for Detroit earlier this season. With Chris Paul, it's even trickier.
To preview Monday's game, we're shaking things up and keeping things fresh by doing a little opponent recon. We're joined today by Roscoe Whalan of Clipperblog.com, who's been gracious enough to lend his Clippers expertise. Hit the link to check out the Q&A we did with them over there.
DBB: On paper, the Clippers are a tough matchup for the Pistons. Last time we met, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford (Go Blue!) went ham in Chris Paul's absence. This time around, the Clippers are healthy and, in my opinion, an even tougher matchup than they were last time. Blake Griffin in particular is a tough cover for Ersan Ilyasova and Anthony Tolliver.
If you were coaching the Clippers tonight, what match ups would you exploit and how?
Clipperblog: It's #32. Blake is so effective for a couple of reasons. Stick a traditional big man on him, and he blows right by him. Try to go small and keep up with him, and he'll bully you in the paint. It's no surprise that Griffin's biggest troubles are against guys like Draymond Green. So, Tolliver is actually an interesting match up for Griffin in that he is versatile enough to play him both ways. That being said, he's clearly the match up the Clippers will try to exploit. His scoring has tapered off from where he was at in the first couple weeks of the season, but he's still the most versatile weapon on the Clippers roster. His play-making ability is underrated and his ability to rebound, run the floor and go coast-to-coast is a skill unmatched in the NBA save for one (See James, LeBron). His improved mid-range jumper means that you have to respect it, and his ability to find the open man in the corner means that he can hurt you in a number of ways.
DBB: If you were coaching the Pistons, what Clippers' weaknesses would you seek to exploit to gain an edge?
CB: Please don't Hack-a-DeAndre (editor's note: that cuts both ways!).
That nightmare aside, there are few ways to take advantage of this Clippers team. For one, you've got Luc Mbah-a-Moute in the starting five now, and while he's not in there for his offense, he certainly presents an Achilles' heel on that end of the floor. He's making about one of every three shots he takes this season both inside and outside the arc, and on this road trip he's been particularly icy. While forcing the ball into LRMAM's hands may be easier said than done, the Clippers bench continues to be mixed bag and is prone to capitulation if pushed hard enough. Sometimes you'll get Jamal Crawford shake-n-bakes like it's 2011 (See last time these two teams met) or a solid Austin Rivers performance, but generally, it's been a mess. Paul Pierce is losing a battle to Father Time very quickly, Lance Stephenson can't get any rhythm on the court, and Josh Smith, well, you guys are familiar with the many faces of Josh.
DBB: Who's better: Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan?
CB: Hey, a guy who's shooting free throws worse than DJ this year! The advantage probably ends there, though. DJ is what he is, which is great but Drummond is still only 22, has 10 games of 18 or more rebounds already this year, and has some offense to boot. If you're contending this season or maybe the next then Jordan is probably your guy. He's known for his defense (#Minister4Defense or whatever the campaign it was they ran for Defensive Player of the Year in 2015), but really he's just as important to this team's offensive. I guess the concept is verticality - he's so big and so athletic that he makes it essential for opposing defenses to guard the space 'up there' so to speak. Drummond is a tad more traditional but oozes upside, and to me, is the face of Big Men Next Gen in the NBA.
DBB: So far, the Clippers haven't been as good as they were last season. What's the story?
CB: It's interesting isn't it? The team came in with such high expectations and has really fallen flat so far. Even though they're winning games and are fourth in the West, it's not quite right. I read somewhere the other day that the Clippers are "lifelessly good," which is pretty accurate. Have you watched the Golden State Warriors? They do silly celebrations after made threes, crack jokes with each other, and are generally pretty happy to be there. Watch a Clippers game and its almost the exact opposite. They look as if they are exhausted at even the thought of having to play another eighty-two games just to get back to where they were last year. The new additions have their own personal problems to attend to, and the hunger that you'd like to see from this team is certainly lacking.
DBB: From an outside perspective, what's your take on the Pistons' rebuild under Stan Van Gundy so far?
CB: I like it. The team finally has established a bit of an identity behind the way Stan Van Gundy likes to put a team together. The summer where the Pistons signed Josh Smith for the hell of it seemed misguided, and SVG has finally got the personnel in order which suits him. He's obviously replicating some of his fine work that was so successful in Orlando with Dwight, but now he's got Drummond instead. I really liked the addition of Ersan Ilyasova. I'm intrigued to see how things go when Brandon Jennings returns to the fold, but I've always been a fan of Jennings so I'm going to take the optimistic outlook and imagine that in a contract year, he embraces a sixth man role and provides a healthy boost to an otherwise 'blergh' bench. I'm bullish on what this team can do at full strength and wouldn't be surprised to see them sneak into the 8th seed come April.
At 14-11, the Pistons are the eight seed in the East. At 14-10, the Clippers are the fourth seed in the West.
If the Pistons played in the Western Conference, what would their record be, and would they make the Playoffs? Likewise, how would the Clippers fare in the Eastern Conference?