the Pistons are making the trip out to Portlandia to face off with Damian Lillard and his merry men. The game is at 9pm EST.
The Them: The #justblazin are off to a surprisingly good start to the season at 4-2. Their best win is probably against Utah were they managed to score a lot of points against the vaunted Jazz D. And their worst loss is to the Suns, because both their losses are to the Suns, on a back to back no less. And while there is certainly something here that says they might not be quite as bad as most people (me included) thought they would be. There are not a lot of strong indicators of them being a surprise team this year. Honestly just look at them as opposed to the Pistons. The Pistons are 4-1 playing against a really hard slate, and they have done it with defense, and really poor shooting. The Blazers have beaten up a pretty soft schedule and are 2nd in the NBA in EFG% so far, which is not likely to stay up. Calling them Damian Lillard and his merry men is actually a decent way to describe them so far. Watching them so far has actually kind of reminded me of the Melo led Knicks team that won 54 games. In that the team is centered around a singular offensive force in Lillard, and then a whole bunch of guys who all seem to be overachieving just a little bit. And all that overachieving compounds into a whole bunch of players playing really well. CJ McCullum even fits in as their very own JR Smith. (I am not saying this team will win 54 games or that they are as good as that Knicks team) But make no mistake, Lillard is the center of this team, and they will go as far as he takes them. McCullum is the only other guy that really scares me (offensively at least) and Al-Farouq Aminu has also been really good so far. Their offense plummets whenever Lillard hits the bench (goes down by about 12 points per 100 possessions) however the defense also gets quite a bit better. It is an interesting difference. Lillard is easily the best player on the team. But they swap from a dangerous offensive team with him on the floor, to one that scraps by with defense when he is off it.
Match ups to watch:
Jackson vs. Lillard: This will be exciting simply because it will be the best pairing of players in the game. Also, Lillard is the best (offensive) PG Jackson will be going up against this season, and by a healthy margin. Jackson has been really good on defense so far this year, and has not faced all scrubs either. But We are going to find out exactly what he is worth on that end on this road trip. He passed a first test against Bledsoe, but Lillard is on another level. In particular watch for how Jackson deals with screens. Because Jackson generally likes to duck under screens and count on his speed and length to allow him to get back out to the ball handler in time to prevent an open 3. However Lillard has a quick trigger and has the green light at all times, and he freaking loves to destroy guys for doing exactly that. And while it is foolish to forget that Lillard can really put the ball on the floor and finish inside, don't fool yourself. Lillard is a sniper from deep, and that is where he does almost all of his damage. Jackson will definitely get burned at least a couple times by Lillard because Lillard is really good. But if Jackson can generally stay with Lillard and force him to score/make plays other than good looks from 3. Lillard will be bottled up. (Lillard, like Jackson, has also had a slight issue with turnovers this season.) Also, on the other end, Lillard has not made many improvements on D if any at all. Jackson could have a freaking field day if he is on his game.
Andre Drummond vs Everyone. Yeah this might just be in every precap. But the Blazers might be in some serious trouble here, Their best chance in Mason Plumlee, who is a pretty decent center. HOWEVA, the issue is this. Plumdog's whole game is based on the fact that he is a pretty big, strong, athletic guy. And Andre Drummond is bigger, stronger, and more athletic. If the difference is enough that Plumlee can't keep Drummond out of the paint, then Drummond might have another huge game. Particularly since they do not really have anyone else who has much chance against him.
Andre Drummond vs. Free throws: It sucks but until he does not go 2/13 in a game for a really long stretch, this will be a thing.
Greater Morris vs. Aminu: By most measures so far, Aminu has been the Blazers second best player, and he is definitely the best defender. Morris will be paired with him a lot. And this is kind of general but he just has to win more possessions than he losses. Because Aminu is the sort of swiss army knife type that does not have any particular skill that is integral to his game. He just does a lot of stuff well. Also with Morris though, this game seems to have the possibility of a really big night, or a really poor one. Because IF the Pistons can get consistent switches and have either McCullom or Lillard on Morris he might not miss a single shot all night. But if they can't, Aminu is exactly the type of player who can take Morris out of the game. A good enough defender to muck up his iso offense, and enough of a hard nosed try hard in every other area of the game to stick right with Morris. But if Morris can win this matchup that would be a big step for the Pistons to win this game.
KCP vs. McCollum: McCullom is capable of scoring in bunches, KCP has shown great defense so far this year. Pretty self explanatory. McCullom is also a bit of a chucker, so he will likely put up his shots regardless of how good KCP is guarding him. Which means that if KCP can play awesome D, McCullom might have a really bad game.
What not to watch: Bench Mobs. Even following a much better performance against the Suns, the Pistons bench is still not very good, and neither are the Blazers. So if there is a part of the game you want to miss, it would be when the bench mobs take the floor, because it could legitimately get ugly.
So in conclusion...
Cackle with knowing glee if: - Lillard is not finding open looks off of screens - McCullom is chucking to little success - Andre Drummond causes multiple Portland big men to retire because they feel so terrible about themselves. - The Pistons bench doesn't suck - Reggie Jackson is in the paint literally every possession
Run for the hills if: - Lillard is getting open looks from 3. - McCullom starts to hit shots. - Andre steps to the free throw line - It looks like several Pistons players had been making good use of certain laws in Portland. Opportunities for me to look stupid: - Jackson does ok on D, but not good enough to keep Lillard from having a big night. - KCP keeps McCullom pretty much bottled up. - Marcus Morris gets his switches and destroys everyone not named Aminu. - SVG finds creative ways to kill Lillard on D.
This should be a pretty fun game, but it also is one that the Pistons should win. The Blazers are (probably) the worst team the Pistons have faced so far this year. Lillard is dangerous but the rest of the team is probably not as good as they have looked so far this year. If the Pistons are going to be a real team this year these are the sorts of games that they should take care of with some ease.
What do you think? Think I'm stupid? Let me know! We all get smarter!