Tonight at 7:30pm EST the Pistons will be in Miami to face off against the Heat. The Pistons are on 3 days of rest after beating the Spurs. As are the Heat after beating the Magic.
The Heat are a pretty good team with some pretty good players and a good coach. They are not anything especially menacing or remarkable and they join the Pistons as having battled injuries. They come into the game sporting an anemic 24th ranked offense that scores just 103.0 points per 100 possessions, but have a respectable 13th ranked defense that allows 105.0 points per 100 possessions which gives them the 21st ranked net rating in the NBA, which is much worse than their record. (for reference, the Hornets are a at -1.1, nearly a full point above and in one spot behind the Heat are the Mavericks. Both of those teams are well under .500)
The Heat are still lead by their duo of Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has had some injury problems this year but he is still a terrific shot blocker who has great size and length who is capable of doing most basic things on offense even if he isn't all that remarkable. He has probably not progressed from his breakout year the way the Heat would've liked but he is still really good. Goran Dragic is still a menace in the open court who has a great balance of being able to score in a variety of ways while still being a good passer for a nice “score/pass” balance. Beyond those two, Josh Richardson is having a nice bounce-back year after a rough (and injury riddled) year last year. He is a scoring guard who can shoot. Dion Waiters is hurt and will not be playing as is Rodney McGruder and Justise Winslow. Pistons fans can at least take some solace in the fact that Winslow (the guy who the national media types were drooling over and couldn't believe the Pistons took Johnson over) has progressed even less than Stanley Johnson has and may officially have a injury problem. James Johnson is a goofy big guy who handles the ball and can pass, almost like if Josh Smith had stopped taking so many threes (while hitting them at a slightly better clip) and focused entirely on being a facilitator and defender, although he is also hurt and may or may not play tonight. Tyler Johnson is a versatile wing who is the sort of swiss army knife player that any team would love to have. Wayne Ellington can shoot but doesn't do a ton else. Kelly Olynyk can score a bit and isn't a bad defender but he is not all that good, Bam Adebayo looks like he can play and may end up being a good find in the last draft at just 20 years old. He doesn't have a lot of offensive versatility but he can defend and knows his role. Michigan fans can keep an eye out for Derrick Walton if the game is a blowout or foul/injury trouble comes for the Miami guards.
The hype surrounding the Heat heading into the year was never really going to be paid out, the Heat went on a crazy tear last year largely behind a bunch of role players playing the best basketball of their lives (most notably James Johnson and Dion Waiters) and that probably wasn't going to happen again. That said, this team should be in the thick of the playoff race all year, they have a very good coach, two borderline all-star players in Dragic and Whiteside, and several other guys who can play. They are not likely to be more than a tough lower end playoff team, but they are also unlikely to be any worse than that.
Matchups to watch:
Drummond vs. Whiteside: This the the premier matchup without question. Drummond has generally gotten the best of Whiteside but they are well matched. Whiteside has length and some extra offensive skill, while Drummond has brute strength and the whole thing where he actually passes occasionally. This is always a fun one and tonight figures to be no different.
Smith vs. Dragic: Dragic is a much better player of course, but both guys thrive in transition and look to run with regularity. Especially given that both teams are well rested, look for the game to be fast paced when these two are on the floor, also hope that Ish can continue to have enough jumpers fall to keep the offense from collapsing.
Avery Bradley vs. Return: Bradley is supposed to be returning tonight. It will be interesting to see if his offensive role will be changed with the absence of Reggie Jackson, but at the very least he adds a bit more potency to the starting lineup on offense and will definitely help the Pistons play defense at the level they need. (btw, the Pistons are back into the top 10 in defensive efficiency after falling out for a bit)
Reggie Bullock vs. Being his best self: Bullock has been as good as anyone could've hoped so far as a starter and it has been a huge boost to the Pistons. If he continues to play the way he has then the Pistons will have a much easier time weathering the storm without Reggie Jackson, if he falls off though it could get ugly.
Bench mob vs. Not being awful: They were awful in game 1 without Ish Smith, and were pretty decent against the Spurs. The Heat do not play their bench guys a lot so the Pistons bench will have to be ready to go.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Ish Smith is able to get out into transition with consistency.
The Buycks led bench mob repeats a successful outing.
Run for the hills if:
Every member of the bench goes -20 on the night.
Ish Smith is clanging a lot of midrange jumpers.
The Pistons try to have Avery Bradley do too much and he ends up with 10 turnovers.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
The Pistons play with great defensive intensity again.
Avery Bradley has a really good game.
The Heat struggle to get out in transition.
The Pistons play smothering defense for a second game and keep the Heat at arms length throughout, never quite generating enough offense for a blowout but its close.
Pistons 98 – Heat 87.
What do you think? How will Avery Bradley look? Can Andre outplay Whiteside?