Series Preview: Pistons Face Challenge of Dethroning The King
The Detroit Pistons are back in the NBA Playoffs for the first time in six seasons. As they head back to the playoffs with a record of 44-38, they have reignited the Detroit Piston fanbase. The rebuild process has been painful for the team itself and the fanbase. But, Detroit is back now, and they face a mighty challenge. Their challenge, taking on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers went 57-25 in the regular season, good enough for 1st place in the Eastern Conference. Let’s delve into this series, and look at the Pistons chances of upsetting the Cavaliers.
The Pistons won the regular season series 3-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons split their two home games versus the Cavs this season, and won both games in Cleveland. The Cavaliers beat the Pistons 114-106 in Detroit for their only win against the Pistons this season. The Pistons won their only matchup against the Cavaliers when Tobias Harris played. They played Cleveland two times after acquiring Harris from the Orlando Magic, but he sat out the last game of the season against the Cavaliers. The Pistons won their last game against the Cavaliers in OT 112-110, when both teams sat their starters.
Cleveland possesses one of the best rosters in the NBA, hence being the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference. They are considered to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Here’s a look at Cleveland’s roster.
(S) denotes starter:
PG: Kyrie Irving(S), Matthew Dellavedova, Mo Williams
SG: J.R. Smith(S), Iman Shumpert, Jordan McRae
SF: LeBron James(S), Richard Jefferson, James Jones, Dahntay Jones
PF: Kevin Love(S), Channing Frye
C: Tristian Thompson(S), Timofey Mozgov, Sasha Kaun
Cleveland has one of the best starting lineups in the NBA, and it is not just because of LeBron James. The Cavaliers also have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who before this year, were perennial all-stars. Irving returned from a leg injury that he suffered in the NBA Finals last season in the middle of the year. Since he returned to action, Irving has averaged 19.6 points, 4.7 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. Kevin Love averaged 16 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in the regular season. Besides Cleveland’s “Big Three,” they have two other players that have had very successful seasons. Tristan Thompson averaged 7.8 points and 9 rebounds in only 27 minutes per game in the regular season. He averaged 3.3 offensive rebounds per game, which was top 10 in the league. He is a capable big man who is a good rim protector. J.R. Smith is the x-factor for Cleveland in the playoffs. He is a very streaky offensive player, and his defense is sub par, but when Smith is hot, he is flames of immortality. He only averaged 12.4 points per game in the regular season, but he did it on 40% shooting from the three-point line. He is also a much improved defender compared to seasons past, while still being below average. The Cleveland starting five is loaded with talent, and will cause trouble for any team.
Cleveland’s bench is lined with players who do one thing exceptionally well. Timofey Mozgov is a good inside scoring presence, while he is not a good enough defender to play meaningful minutes, especially in the playoffs. Iman Shumpert is a good perimeter defender, while he is not a scoring threat from anywhere on the court on offense. He shot 29.5% from the three-point line this season. Shumpert may also be out for a part, if not all of the series. Channing Frye is a solid three-point shooter, shooting 37.7% from three. But, much like Mozgov, he is not a good enough defender to where he can play 20+ minutes a game. Matthew Dellavedova is Cleveland’s best two-way bench player. He averaged 7.5 points and 4.4 assists per game. Cleveland’s bench will have to play well for the Cavaliers to get past Detroit.
The Good Guys
Detroit has seen a semi revitalization after the All-Star Break/Trade Deadline. With the addition of Tobias Harris, Detroit became a better offensive and defensive team. Since the All-Star Break, Detroit has been one of the better teams in the NBA. As they found their stride in the 2nd half of the season, they will need to take all the momentum they have into the playoffs.
Here’s an overview of Detroit’s roster.
(S) denotes starter:
PG: Reggie Jackson(S), Steve Blake, Spencer Dinwiddie, Lorenzo Brown
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope(S), Jodie Meeks, Darrun Hilliard
SF: Marcus Morris(S), Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock
PF: Tobias Harris(S), Anthony Tolliver
C: Andre Drummond(S), Aron Baynes, Joel Anthony
The Pistons are fueled by their starting five. All members of the Pistons starting five averaged double figures during the season. The starters scoring is the biggest necessity for Detroit. Fueled by Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, the Pistons starting five is also one of the best in the league. Reggie Jackson was the floor general for Detroit and his good play means everything for the Pistons. He averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game this season.Andre Drummond earned his first All-Star selection this season, as he averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1,5 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game in the season. When teams do not hack Drummond, he is always one of the best players on the court, and he will need to be if Detroit wants to win the series versus Cleveland. Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris are vital for Detroit as well on offense. Detroit needs their production each game to be competitive. Harris has been an All-Star level player in Detroit since his arrival. He has averaged 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He also shot his best percentage from the three-point line with Detroit, at 37.5%. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is one of the best defenders in the NBA, and Detroit will need him at his very best this series, as they try to contain not only LeBron James but Kyrie Irving as well. If Detroit’s starters can be productive, they will compete with Cleveland in the series.The Bench
Detroit’s bench has seen a rejuvenation as of late. They have been very productive as the regular season came to a close. Aron Baynes has been able to score at a good clip for the Pistons, while being able to rebound and defend at a high level. Stanley Johnson finished the season well, after struggling mightily when he returned from a shoulder injury. He finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists, in his last game of the season against Cleveland. Steve Blake has played much better as the season progressed for Detroit. While he will never be a good defender, his ability to lead the second string’s offense will be key for the Pistons in the playoffs. Anthony Tolliver had a season full of ups and downs, but always brings defense and effort to the table. While Detroit will desperately need his shooting ability, his defense will also be crucial. Reggie Bullock started playing when Stanley Johnson struggled, and he delivered. Already a good perimeter defender, his offense blossomed when on the court. In his last game of the season Bullock notched 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. The Pistons bench must provide consistent shooting for Detroit, as they look to dethrone The King.
Jodie Meeks receives his own paragraph because of the potential threat he brings to the series. After playing in only the first two games of the season, Meeks suffered a foot fracture and did not return until the last game of the season. He played 26 minutes and dropped 20 points. He was in Twitter terms, “straight fire.” The biggest factor of his play was that he shot 4/9 from the three-point line. Meeks is still a NBA level player, and he provides Detroit with a secret weapon of the bench(well maybe not so secret because Meeks torched the Cavs in that game). Meeks is fast enough to where he can come off screens and quickly catch and shoot. If the Cavaliers go small and quick and put LeBron at power forward, the Pistons can counter with either Morris/Harris at the four, and then Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks on the wing. If Stan Van Gundy decides to play Jodie Meeks, he could be a huge factor in the series.
Stan Van Gundy is the better coach compared to Tyronn Lue by a mile. Lue has been sub par with Cleveland this season, while Van Gundy has overacheived with Detroit in most people’s eyes. This is one of the clear-cut advantages Detroit has in the series. How much of a factor the coaching will play in the season, we will hae to wait to see.
For now, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the better team compared to the Detroit Pistons. With LeBron James, Irving, and Love, one could argue they have the three best players in the series. With that being said, Detroit will give the Cavaliers a run for their money in the series. Ultimately, Cleveland will win the series 4-2. Detroit will fight, and they will fight well, but they will not be enough to overtake Cleveland.
Featured Image via: (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)