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Pistons vs. Knicks preview: Plague-ravaged Detroit returns home seeking sixth win

Cade Cunningham could return tonight

Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons returns home to face the struggling New York Knicks after an unsuccessful 0-3 road trip. Detroit looks to field a COVID-ravaged lineup for the third game since originally losing Cade Cunningham to health and safety protocols on Dec. 23. If you follow Detroit’s G-League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, this match up will feature some familiar faces, if you don’t, this may not be the game for you.

Game Vitals

When: 7 p.m. ET

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan

Watch: Bally Sports Detroit

Odds: DET +5.5

Game Analysis

After an impressive 5-1 start to the season, the New York Knicks have been in a constant state of flux. The 2020-21 Knicks were able to finish fourth in the eastern conference largely due to defensive toughness and offensive brilliance from Julius Randle. However, this season both Randle and the Knicks defense have regressed, playing a large role in the team having a below .500 record of 16-18.

Although still disappointing, the regression from Randle was somewhat expected. He shot a career high 41.1% from three last season, a major jump from his prior career average of 29.5%.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Knicks season thus far has been the complete loss of defensive identity. Near the half-way mark of the season, New York ranks in 20th in the league for defensive rating. In the season prior, lead by the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks ranked 4th in the league and were considered one of the best defensive teams in the league.

While much has been made of the rosters change in personal, the reduced defensive productivity goes deeper than just personal. Another area of defense the Knicks have taken a major step back in, is defending their opponent in transition. After allowing the 2nd-least points per possession (PPP) as season ago, New York currently allows the 6th-most, with 1.14 PPP.

However, while the season as a whole has been disappointing for New York, they have dealt with their fair share of injuries and COVID-related absences in the past month. In their past 5 games, since restoring Kemba Walker as the starting point guard, the Knicks are 3-2. While his play has cooled in the last two games, during this 5-game span, Walker is averaging 22.8 points, 7.4 boards and 6.0 assists.

If New York are to make a serious push for the playoffs this season, their next 8 games against sub-.500 opponents will be crucial. As per Tankatom.com, New York currently have the 6th toughest remaining strength of schedule, hence after the next 8 games, thier remaining schedule is expected to be brutal.

A couple of players to keep your eye on for the visitor’s is the high-flying Mitchell Robinson and sharp-shooting Quentin Grimes.

Last week, without Stewart and Olynyk in the line-up, Robinson had his best game in the past couple of seasons, finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks. With no sign of Stewart returning and Olynyk sidelined due to injury, expect Robinson to wreak havoc against Detroit’s lack of bigs.

Grimes has only recently entered the Knicks rotation as a result of COVID-19 ravaging the Knicks roster. In his last game prior to entering health and safety protocols (12/12), Grimes scored a career-high 27 points, connecting on 7/13 three point attempts. In his past two games since returning, Grimes is averaging 13 points and 4.0 treys in 29 minutes.

For Detroit, the return to home could coincide with the return of franchise center-piece Cade Cunningham:

It goes without saying that the return of Cunningham is required on a number of fronts, for us fans it’s simply watchability. If Cunningham isn’t able to go, expect him to rejoin the team, along with; Hayes, Lee and Stewart, for the team’s next game against the San Antonio Spurs, on the 1st of January, 2022.

As it pertains to the matchup with New York, expect Detroit to push the pace, looking to expose the Knicks poor transition defense. In the past two games without the main rotation, Detroit ranks 9th in the league for fast break points with 13 points per game. The increased transition play should be beneficial to Detroit’s fourth year wing, Hamidou Diallo. Diallo is in season best form, fresh off season-high 27 points against the San Antonio Spurs.

Saddiq Bey has continued his hot stretch of play, which as now spanned for the past fortnight. With added responsibility, Bey has continued to deliver, averaging 23/7/3 in his last 6 games. Perhaps the most impressive part of Bey’s recent play has been the efficiency in which he has scored the ball at despite the limited supporting cast. In his past 6 games, the second-year wing has shot the ball at an elite level with a 61.8 TS%, up from his season average of 48.5 TS%.

Finally, a ‘deep-cut’ player to keep your eye on for Detroit is the high-flying guard, Cassius Stanley. In limited action, Stanley contributed 9 points and 3 stocks against the Spurs. Stanley definitely fits the physical profile of a Troy Weaver ‘guy’ and if he is able to string some similar performances together, he could earn himself a two-way deal in the ‘big league’.

Projected Lineups

New York Knicks (16-18)

Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson

Detroit Pistons (5-27)

Derrick Walton Jr., Frank Jackson, Hamidou Diallo, Saddiq Bey, Luka Garza

Question of the Day

Are you a fan of Johnny Kane as a play-by-play commentator? (It’s a yes from me)