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Pistons at Cavaliers preview: Crashing vs. Controlling your descent

Both of these teams have been bad in January, but only one is crashing.

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

On paper, this is an excellent time to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the month of January, they’ve been the worst defensive team in basketball, sporting a 113.5 defensive rating. They’ve eked out a 4-7 record despite the second worst net rating in January (-8.4), but two of those wins were nail-biters over the team with the fewest wins in the NBA (Orlando). The Miami Heat have almost eclipsed them in the standings.

Watching their games, they seem disinterested. They had the dreaded Players-Only Meeting, which turned out to be an excuse to roast Kevin Love. Isaiah Thomas is openly grousing about critiques of his shot selection. Tyronn Lue has been compelled to change the starting lineup (...again). Trade rumors are swirling around them.

And yet.

They have LeBron James, and the Pistons do not. So:

Yeah, it’s like that.

Game Vitals:

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
When: 6:00 p.m. EST
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
Wager: Detroit +8.0

Analysis and Ponderings:

The Pistons have lost their last seven games, and their playoff lives are flashing before their eyes. The loss of starting point guard Reggie Jackson has left Detroit bereft of any dependable shot creation, and the offense has reverted into a fetid mixture of easily defended motion actions and mid-range jumpers.

But you knew that already.

Stan Van Gundy has begun trying new things to spur offense. He’s started Langston Galloway the last two games, increasing the potential spacing in the starting lineup. Boban Marjanovic and his insane offensive production has returned to the rotation. Stanley Johnson initiated the offense for a third-quarter stretch last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Some of it has helped, but none of it has been enough to result in a win.

But you knew that already.

The lack of offense has begun to seep into the other side of the ball. Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris, who have both tried to shoulder more of the offensive load, have increased their pleas to the referees for foul calls - which slows their ability to get back in transition. Drummond and Avery Bradley having the ball more results in more live-ball turnovers, which turn into easy points, which turn into deficits the Pistons have no way to match, because they can’t score. Small halftime leads balloon in the third quarter, where the Pistons possess a -8.7 net rating in the month of January.

But you knew that already.

All this team had to do was hold the line for six to eight weeks. They had a home-heavy schedule in which to do it, and a track record of being able to stay afloat without Reggie Jackson. Instead, there are now calls to fire Stan Van Gundy and his regime, to blow it up via trade, to tank, to hand the kids possessions they likely aren’t ready for. It would be inconceivable that everything could go this poorly - if it wasn’t unfolding before our eyes.

But you knew that already.

Projected Lineups:

Detroit: Langston Galloway, Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond

Cleveland: Isaiah Thomas, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson.