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Pistons vs Cavaliers preview: Tough three-game stretch begins tonight in Cleveland

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Pistons are on the road tonight followed by home games against Utah and Toronto later in the week.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Pistons beat these very same Cavaliers last week 106-101 to keep pace in the bottom half of a cluttered Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Tonight’s game in Cleveland represents the first of a tough three-game stretch this week for Detroit. With home games against Utah (on a back-to-back) and Toronto afterwards, a case could be made for a 3-0 week just as easily as an 0-3. Detroit’s actual record will probably, hopefully, land somewhere in between.

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Game Vitals

When: March 14th at 7 p.m. EST
Where: Quicken Loans Arena; Cleveland, OH
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA TV

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Analysis

Much of last week’s preview still applies.

Although the lack of confidence shown by Fear the Sword is rather alarming:

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In Cleveland’s 117-112 loss to Houston over the weekend, James Harden — of all people — showcased two defensive techniques that stifled two Cleveland possessions.

Isolation defense

If you ever find yourself on an island defending Kyrie Irving, remember to keep your feet; if you bite on a pump, you’re toast:

Harden’s proactive defense takes away Irving’s right hand and forces him left. To someone with Irving’s handles, this isn’t a big deal, but it takes away options:

There is little chance to stay in-front of Irving playing him straight-up.

Finally, Harden perfected the “late jump” to contest Irving as he didn’t commit to jumping until a fraction of a second after Irving did. The late jump is a staple of all top perimeter defenders.

PNR defense

The aggressive show by Nene forces Irving to retreat instead of turning the corner:

Or splitting the defense:

By attacking the PNR, it gets the ball out of Irving’s hands, with only Tristan Thompson as a viable target. Knowing this, Harden jumps the pass and heads in the opposite direction.

Much like football, smart teams will pick you apart if consistently shown the same defensive looks. By no means is containing Irving one-on-one or in a PNR easy, and there is no umbrella answer. Mixing up defensive schemes (not principles), however, can go a long way into influencing poor offensive decisions.

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Projected Lineups

Detroit

Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris

Cleveland

Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Richard Jefferson, LeBron James

* stay tuned to to the GameThread for lineup updates

Prediction

Cleveland’s hit a rough patch, losing four of their past five games, and they’re still without Kevin Love and possibly Kyle Korver. New Cavaliers’ forward/center Larry Sanders will be in attendance, but probably won’t suit up.

The Pistons have won four of the past five and are arguably playing their best ball of the season. No team in the Eastern Conference has an answer for an engaged Andre Drummond.

Pistons 107, Cavaliers 103