Tonight at 7:00pm EST the Pistons will be back home to host the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons are on the second night of a back to back after beating the Timberwolves last night, while the Cavs are on two days of rest after beating the Clippers.
The Cavs are tricky because everyone is (probably correctly) pretty sure they are still the best team in the Eastern Conference but they haven't played like it so far. They currently sport, literally, the worst defense in basketball allowing 110 points per 100 possessions, which is a distant last as 29th placed Phoenix allows 108.7. On the other end of the floor the Cavs have the 4th best offense in the NBA scoring 108.4 points per 100 possessions. The team has often not been good, they are 9-7, and have a negative point differential, but they have won 4 in a row (against not great competition) and are possibly righting the ship.
They are, of course, lead by LeBron James. In case you didn't know, he is pretty good and really it is just stupid how good he is. Currently scoring 28.9 points per game with 8.6 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks, and doing it on crazy efficiency. He remains the best player in the world and it isn't all that close. Kevin Love isn't having as big a season as a lot of people thought he might, but 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds with good perimeter shooting is nothing to laugh at. Beyond those two, it is not very pretty for the Cavs right now as Derrick Rose (who had actually been playing ok), Iman Shumpert, and Tristan Thompson are all hurt while Isaiah Thomas continues to rehab. With the injuries Jose Calderon is the expected starter which is good news for the Pistons. J.R. Smith is not shooting well so far this year, but I would expect that to flip around given that he has been one of the most prolific shooters in basketball the past couple of years. Jae Crowder remains a solid three and D player but he also is struggling to shoot so far this year, Jose Calderon probably sucks now. The Cavs bench has been very good so far this year though, lead by Dwyane Wade who can still get buckets and despite his poor shooting so far, has really looked solid playing fewer minutes essentially as the backup point guard, Kyle Korver is an ageless wonder who could well win 6th man of the year with his absurd shooting as he is averaging 10.8 points per game in just 21 minutes per game, Jeff Green has actually been not terrible, and Channing Frye can still freaking shoot.
There are some guys underperforming and they have some injuries, but even in this current form this team is nothing to laugh at even if you take away the general mystic of LeBron being LeBron. There is a TON of offensive firepower here and if a few guys (most notably JR Smith and Crowder) find their long ball back they could well be a historically great offense again, at which point it doesn't really matter that they can't defend anyone.
Matchups to watch:
Stanley Johnson vs. LeBron James: Stanley gets to take his turn at trying to be a full fledged “LeBron Stopper” and the Pistons will need him to be at least kind of successful. The one thing Stanley has going for him here is that he is one of maybe 3 or 4 wing players who actually has the strength to go toe to toe with LeBron. The Cavs are almost comically reliant on LeBron right now, and if Stanley can do something like what he did to Giannis a while back, then the Pistons should be in great shape.
Pistons vs. Kevin Love: Love has given the Pistons trouble for years now. The good news is that he plays a lot of center now (especially with Tristan Thompson out) so he won't just get to abuse Tobias Harris inside all game, but it will still mess with the Pistons game plan.
Andre Drummond vs. The fishing village: The Cavs are not bit. Love is a good rebounder of course, but he should struggle to stick with him. Drummond will have to make his presence fully felt in this game down low, while also not letting Love shoot open jumpers all game.
Pistons vs Good offense: The Cavs have shown very well that they do not play much defense most of the time. If the Pistons come out with any amount of crispness they shouldn't have too much trouble scoring.
Energy levels: The Cavs are on two days of rest while the Pistons are on a back to back with travel. Throw in that the Cavs numbers when rested over the past couple of years has become the stuff of legend means that if the Pistons come out slow this could get ugly fast.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Andre Drummond is pummeling the Cavs inside.
The Pistons are scoring whenever, and wherever, they want.
Stanley Johnson is able to give LeBron at least some trouble.
Run for the hills if:
J.R. Smith and/or Crowder start to nail threes.
Stanley Johnson joins a long list of good defenders who are not good enough for LeBron.
The Pistons look tired while the Cavs look energetic.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Stanley does alright (relatively speaking) against LeBron.
Both teams score a lot of points.
Reggie Jackson has a freaking field day.
The Pistons manage to turn up on defense to find just enough late game stops to pull out a close victory in an offensive slug fest.
Pistons 124 – Cavs 120.
What do you think? Can Stanley Johnson keep with LeBron? Can Drummond deal with all the shooting the Cavs have?