The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers begin their final extended road trip of the season in Detroit against a team that has absolutely owned them in recent years. The Clippers haven't beaten the Pistons in over 6 years, and most of the losses have been pretty ugly. One exception was the first meeting this season, when the Pistons pulled out an 88-87 victory in the final seconds. The Pistons were missing Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace in that one, while the Clippers were missing Baron Davis and Zach Randolph and Chris Kaman. This time around, the Pistons will again be missing Hamilton and Wallace (both are listed as doubtful), only those two will also be joined by Allen Iverson; but the Clippers will have a much stronger team, at least on paper. The Pistons had no answer for Eric Gordon in LA - the rookie went for 31. In fact, Detroit paid him the ultimate compliment by putting Tayshaun Prince on him for the final possession. The Clippers are as healthy as they've been all season, and Chris Kaman is coming off a strong shooting performance, but there's just no telling what you're going to see out of this team from one night to the next. Will it be the efficient Clipper team that built a big lead against New Jersey last Sunday? Or the one that squandered that lead in the fourth quarter? The one that dismantled the undermanned Wizards in the second half? Or the one that meandered through the first half of the same game? There's not much to play for other than pride - and MDsr's job - and it's far from clear that the Clippers have any of the first, or care about preserving the second.
The Pistons, as we have known them for the better part of this decade, are done. Sure, they still have three starters from the championship team (though only one of them is likely to play tonight). But they've got a losing record in March, and that hasn't happened in 8 years. They've also got a likely first round date with Boston, so they're not getting to the second round this season. (If they get lucky and draw Orlando in the first round they could advance, since they seem to have the Magic's number for whatever reason.) With Iverson and Wallace both becoming free agents and the Pistons having a ton of cap space because of it, Joe Dumars is going to totally re-shape the team this summer. The Clippers get a sneak preview of the Pistons sans Iverson and Wallace - only there also aren't any new free agents. Just a bunch of backups like Arron Afflalo and Kwame Brown trying to get them into the playoffs in reasonable shape. With 15 games left, it's unlikely, though not impossible, that the Pistons could drop all the way out of the East playoff picture - they're currently in 7th in the anemic East, despite being below .500. But they're 6 and 13 in their last 19 games, and if they keep losing two out three, it could happen. They need Hamilton and Wallace back (though likely not Iverson) to right the ship.
- November 3rd 2002. Here are some fun facts about the game the last time the Clippers beat the Pistons. Zeljko Rebraca was the starting center - FOR DETROIT. (Olowokandi started for the Clippers, and had a monster 19/20 game.) Current Pistons coach Michael Curry was Detroit's starting small forward. Utah All Star Mehmut Okur came off Detroit's bench to play one minute in the game. Detroit rookie Tayshaun Prince got a DNP CD. The coach of the Clippers was Alvin Gentry. The Clippers have never beaten Detroit in the MDsr era.
- Forget Al Tonight. Al Thornton has been on a roll. He's had 7 consecutive games scoring between 19 and 25 points. He's been the picture of consistency. But Tayshaun Prince is a defensive monster. He will shut Al down - it's what he does. Go elsewhere for points. Al can fill lanes and get put backs and hustle points, but don't call a single play for him. It will not end well. Mark my words.
- Oh my aching back! Allen Iverson's back suddenly and mysteriously started hurting the exact same day that coach Michael Curry told him he'd be coming off the bench for the Pistons. I mean, what are the odds? The Pistons went on a modest 4 game winning streak immediately upon putting Hamilton back into the starting lineup. He's a former Rookie of the Year, a former MVP, a likely first ballot hall of famer - but he doesn't seem to make teams better. It will be very interesting to see what a 34 year old AI (with a bad back, no less!) can command on the free agent market this summer.
- The Clipper Bigs. As ridiculous at it seemed at the time, when we found out way back in January that the Chris Kaman would be out until the All Star break, I resigned myself to the fact that the team would only have their three big players together for the 29 games after the break. Of course, he didn't come back right away. And then Zach Randolph was gone. And then Marcus Camby was resting his sore hamstring. And even the couple of games where all three were available were strange, as Kaman and Camby were both quite limited in the first one, and the second was against the small ball Warriors. So those 29 games that I thought would be a decent, if smallish, sample size have now dwindled to 15. And there's no word on whether Camby will be able to play tonight. Sigh.
- Eric Gordon. EJ had a terrible game in Oakland on Tuesday, his worst of the season. He followed that up with a terrible first half Wednesday night. And he followed that with a monster second half. He seems to be slump-proof. It's worth noting that the Clippers lost a winnable game in Oakland when he had an off-night, and trailed the Wizards at half time as well. Coincidence?
- Pistons bench. Obviously with three of your top six out of action, the bench gets much thinner, a fact with which the Clippers are painfully aware. But in a double overtime loss to the Rockets on Wendesday, the Pistons starters played 84% of the available minutes. Three guys played over 50 minutes each. The strange thing is, weren't we being told how great Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson were going to be when they got the chance to play? But Kwame Brown (yes, that Kwame Brown) starts and plays 42 minutes, while Maxiell plays 19 and Johnson plays 1? What happened?
- Superstar for one game. Rodney Stuckey. OK, Stuckey's hardly an unknown, and was even the conference player of the week back in January. But I figure I can use the ClipperSteve reverse mojo to force Stuckey into a bad game, just to tweak Citizen Jax a little.
Let me tell you what Melba Toast is packin' right here, all right. We got 4:11 Positrac outback, 750 double pumper, Edelbrock intake, bored over 30, 11 to 1 pop-up pistons, turbo-jet 390 horsepower. We're talkin' some f***in' muscle.
- Get the Pistons perspective at Detroit Bad Boys.