The San Antonio Spurs, at 7-13, have fallen out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference this season, despite retaining and improving upon the same core that led them to 48 wins and the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons, at 6-13, are in the same boat. Both teams are two games out of the eight seed (yup, the bottom of the West is just as ugly and muddled as the bottom of the East right now), and will look to begin the slow, arduous process of turning their season around tonight.
When: Sunday, December 1, 2019, 5 p.m. EST
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
The reason the Spurs aren’t as good as they’ve been in the past is simple - their defense hasn’t been good. Greg Popovich, one of the best coaches in NBA history and one of the best defensive minds the game of basketball has ever seen, is presiding over a team ranked 25th in DRTG. Opponents are shooting 38 percent from three against the Spurs this year, and the Spurs force a league-worst 12.6 turnovers a game.
The Pistons, for their part, have not been good as well. Although the defense has improved lately (they’re “up” to 21st in DRTG, at 110.7 points per 100 possessions, after being as bad as 113 points per 100 early this year), the offense has declined. After starting out as a top-10 offense, the Pistons are now hovering at 14th (108.5). They’re still top-10 in True Shooting percentage (9th, with a 57.2 TS%) , buoyed by the three-point shooting of Langston Galloway (41.4 percent, 5.8 3PA/G) and Luke Kennard (39.1 percent, 6.7 3PA/G).
Of course, the Pistons are coming off their ninth straight loss to the Charlotte Hornets, three of them coming this season by a combined total of seven points. Those seven points have triggered a moral, political, philosophical, and existential crisis among Pistons fans (myself included). NBA basketball is, at its core, an entertainment product, and the combination of this team losing and generally being unfun to watch has - completely understandably! - turned fans of the team off.
The players know what’s happening, and what’s at stake. Blake Griffin had some eyebrow-raising quotes after the latest Charlotte loss. Andre Drummond had a social media post that would cause you to raise the other eyebrow, and an hour after the game ended he was still on the court, game shorts on, shooting free throws:
Andre Drummond getting free throws up after the game. pic.twitter.com/8Qmfglaug0— pistonswave (@pistonswave) November 30, 2019
Tonight will mark Detroit’s 20th game, essentially a quarter of the way through the season, and the time for this team to play to the level of stated expectations before this season started is rapidly running out. The opportunity is there - their competition in the East is lagging just as badly as they are. Orlando will be down another key rotation player in Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus, per Woj). The Pistons are three of the Hornets’ eight wins. The Washington Wizards have the fourth-best offense in the league and no one is quite sure how. The Chicago Bulls have quit on their head coach.
But none of that matters if this team continues playing poorly, whether by design or by accident.
Detroit Pistons (6-13):
Bruce Brown Jr., Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond
San Antonio Spurs (7-13):
Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge