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Pistons vs. Cavs preview: Detroit plays NBA’s top defense tonight

Detroit is looking for their first victory in Cleveland since January 2020

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons travel to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse for a one-game road trip to play a Central Division rival — the Cleveland Cavaliers. The hometown Cavs enter the night boasting a dominant 3-game winning streak where they have throttled opponents by 15 points or more in each victory.

For Detroit, it has been a tick over three years since their last victory in the state of Ohio. Many will remember the night in January of 2020 when prized rookie at the time, Sekou Doumbouya, skied over Tristan Thompson for the nastiest of poster dunks.

Tonight also marks the final match for either franchise prior to Thursdays 3 p.m. Trade Deadline. With each franchise reportedly in search of a deal (probably a minor one for Detroit), this could be the final time each roster hits the floor as constructed.

Game Vitals

When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland, OH
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +12.5


3 Things to watch:

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

1. Battle of the (young) Bigs

In the Pistons prior meetings with the Cavs in November, not only was Jalen Duren listed as a reserve, but the coaching staff was yet to trial the Duren and Isaiah Stewart pairing. To the surprise of none, the Cleveland front line, featuring Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, feasted on Detroit’s undersized lineup of Bogdanovic, Bey and Stewart (or Bagley), outrebounding them and holding the Motor City to under 100 points in each contest.

Since their initial pairing in the 2021-2022 campaign, Allen and Mobley have been a dominant defensive duo. Their combination of size and length allow the Cavs to field two elite rim protectors at the same time, while ensuring at least one premier shot blocker is on court when the other is resting. Mobley’s versatility on this end of the floor is key in making the giant pairing effective. Without him, Cleveland don’t have the necessary length to cover opposing wings and likely wouldn’t hold the league’s best defensive rating.

For Detroit’s young pairing, tonight provides the opportunity to compete against the league’s best version of The Twin Towers. Right now the Cavs pair of centers are more polished, especially on the defensive end. Stewart and Duren could benefit from observing Mobley and Allen’s synergy on defensive rotations and how they stifle opponents in the painted area.

If Detroit are a chance to win tonight, Stew and Duren will need to continue their recent dominance on the glass—23.9 boards combined in the past 3 games—to out-rebound the NBA’s 9th best rebounding team.

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

2. 2020 Lottery Picks restoring their value

It’s no exaggeration to deem Killian Hayes and Isaac Okoro’s NBA careers to this point as a struggle. Up until the latter part of November, Detroit’s 2020 lottery selection had failed to play with any form of consistency.

Like Hayes, Okoro looked lost in his first 2.5 seasons. A shaky jumper, log-jam at the guard position and an accelerated timeline left Okoro with a fluctuating role in the rotation. His calling card as a player comes on the defensive end, but without a perimeter shot, there’s only so many minutes an undersized guard can play.

However, since beginning of the New Year, Okoro appears to have found his stroke from long-range. In his past 19 games, the recently-tuned 22 year-old is averaging 8.8 points and shooting 51% from three. The scoring numbers don’t jump off the page, but considering the Cavs remaining 4 starters average 14 points or more, there’s no need for Okoro to do anything more than hit open threes. And he’s now doing that.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

3 . Elite ‘iso’ scoring

Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert are two of the NBA’s most efficient shot-creators. Per Synergy Sports, the Cavs guards place in the 84th percentile of isolation scorers. With LeVert currently filling a sixth man role, Coach J. B. Bickerstaff is able to field at least one top-flight iso creator for the full 48 minutes.

Although similar in efficiency, Mitchell and LeVert have differing styles of attack. Mitchell utilizes a vast array of pull-up jumpers and explosive dribble moves to shake defenders, while LeVert uses his height and herky-jerky style of dribble to create space and rise up for jumpers over defenders.

Speaking of LeVert, would anyone like to see the former Wolverine in Piston colors following Thursday’s trade deadline?

Projected Lineups

Detroit Pistons (14-41):
Jaden Ivey, Alec Burks, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren

Cleveland Cavaliers (34-22):
Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarret Allen

Question of the Day

Does Isaac Okoro help this Piston team on the wing if he were acquired via trade?