The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
Here's a little known fact about the 09-10 Clippers - they are 11-0 at home against teams currently at or below .500. With embarrassing losses to the likes of New Jersey, Minnesota, Golden State, Indiana and New York (5 of the 6 worst records in the league as of today), it's easy to think of the team as underperforming against the worst teams. But all of those losses came on the road - they're still losses of course, and plenty embarrassing, but the simple fact is that the team is undefeated against sub-.500 teams at home, so they've taken care of business in Staples Center, at least so far (16-12 overall). So maybe we shouldn't have been so surprised that they were able to beat Charlotte (who was .500 coming into the game) on Monday. LA was able to come up with that win against the Bobcats despite a sub-par game from Eric Gordon, who really should be taking center stage in the latter part of this season. EJ got plenty of nice looks from beyond the arc - he just missed a bunch of them (though he did make three). But unlike the Sacramento game, he was unable to get to the rim against Charlotte (to their credit, a very good perimeter defensive team). Other than hoping that Gordon can play a little better, I'll take pretty much all of the other performances against Charlotte. All nine of the players in Kim Hughes' rotation made solid contributions on Monday, and I believe they are all capable of doing so on a consistent basis. Consistency starts tonight.
LA is 11-0 at home against sub-.500 teams, Detroit is 21-35 on the season, ergo Clippers win. It's as simple as that, right? Wrong. Before their meeting in November, Detroit had beaten the LAC 13 consecutive times, invariably by wide margins. And as it happens, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon all missed that Motor City meeting, and they'll all be back tonight. So I don't expect this to be an easy game. As we know, several opponents have the Clippers' number - San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah, etc. - but Detroit has certainly been high on the nemesis list for many years. Of course, for most of those years the Pistons featured Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, and that's not the case anymore. But with Prince and Hamilton back in the lineup (not to mention Ben Wallace), this team looks suspiciously like the ones that toyed with the Clippers over the years. Obviously the Pistons are not the same team that has made the playoffs eight straight seasons, and far from the team that was in six straight Easter Conference Finals or beyond. But after losing 19 of 23 games from mid December until the end of January, they've actually been playing much better - they're 6-4 in February, which is a hell of a lot better than the Clippers' 3-6 February record. And don't think that Prince and Hamilton and even Stuckey don't know their history against the Clippers - they'll have plenty of confidence coming into this game - they EXPECT to win this game. Tayshaun has never lost to the LAC - he's 13-0.
- Kaman and Prince. Chris Kaman has been linked to the Pistons in trade rumors off and on for at least a year, and usually it's Prince's name on the other side. There was probably never much to the rumors - the Pistons need a center, Kaman is from Michigan, the Clippers are the Clippers, what more do you need to start that rumor? If the offer was in fact real, it would have been very tempting last summer. But with Kaman having a break out season and Prince having the worst of his career while dealing with a balky back, it's looking like the best deal the Clippers never made.
- DEE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL. I'll be in class tonight during the game and not in press row, but it's probably just as well, because nothing annoys me more than the thousands of Pistons fans who pour into Staples Center for every Clippers game. The worst is the DEE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL thing. What the hell is that? Just stop, it's really grating.
- The last time Prince played the Clippers. For the meeting in Detroit last season, Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Stuckey were all injured. No problem, the Pistons just gave the ball to Prince, and he proceeded to destroy the Clippers, scoring 23 and dishing out a career-high 12 assists. It was the kind of outlier performance that seems to happen regularly against the Clippers.
- The Last time Jonas Jerebko played the Clippers. Speaking of which, in the meeting last November Swedish rookie Jerebko went for his career-high with 22 points against the Clippers. He was 8 for 11 from the field, 4 for 4 from the three point arc. He's under 28% from three on the season and averaging less than 9 points per game.
- Thornton versus Stuckey. With the Pistons coming to town and Al Thornton now starting for the Wizards, it's time to dust off the 2007 draft discussion, perhaps for the last time. In that draft, the Clippers took Thornton at 14, and the Pistons grabbed Stuckey at 15. Both would seem to be better than Yi Jianlin (6), Spencer Hawes (10), Acie Law (11) and Julian Wright (13) and probably Mike Conley (4) as well. I'll call the jury out on Brandan Wright (8) who has been hurt and Corey Brewer (7) who looked like a major bust at first but has been playing some serious ball lately. So both Thornton and Stuckey were good picks in the middle of the round. We know Al Thornton's flaws all too well, but he was a very good pick at 14 - the only players taken after him that are even in the conversation are Stuckey, Aaron Brooks (26) and Carl Landry (31), and only Daryl Morey's humungous brain comprehended what Brooks and Landry could be. As for Stuckey, he's been a fine pick at 15 - but the Pistons have to be disappointed that he hasn't developed more since his rookie year. They were so impressed with him back then that they felt comfortable going forward with a payroll slicing maneuver and shipped Chauncey Billups to Denver, handing the reins to Stuckey. The Pistons have been somewhere between steady decline and free fall ever since - which is not Stuckey's fault, though it's not NOT his fault either. Stuckey shoots a terrible percentage (just over 40%), doesn't shoot with range (20% from three), and isn't a particularly pure point guard (less than 5 assists per game, an assist to turnover ratio around 2). So he's a combo guard who can't shoot. Basically, it seems like he'd be a really nice backup for a lot of teams - but if he's your starting point guard, you've got some issues. Which describes the Pistons pretty well.
- Offensive glass. In the first meeting, the Pistons (well, mostly Ben Wallace) grabbed an astounding 19 offensive rebounds. Basically, no one other than Jerebko could make a shot, but the game still went down to the wire because of the offensive boards. The Clippers have got to do a better job tonight.
- Fours? Prince is starting at the four for the Pistons. He's backed up by Charlie Villanueva. So neither is really the traditional four. I can't really figure out Hughes' thinking on the starting four for the team. When I think he's going to start Smith, he starts Jordan, and vice verse. And now of course there's Drew Gooden to consider as well. But whoever plays the four is going to have to defend Villanueva at the three point arc (he shoots almost 4 per game, though his percentage isn't great) and stay in front of the multi-talented Prince. Sounds more like Travis Outlaw than any of those other guys. We'll see.
- Kaman. Chris Kaman had a huge game against these guys last time and I expect he will again. They try Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox and Jason Maxiell at center - Wallace and Maxiell are 6'-7" or 6'-8" at most, and Wilcox has never been known for his post defense. Kaman should be a very tough cover for any of them. I know you're thinking that Wallace is great defender, but remember he's now 35 and his best seasons are far behind him.
- TV Quote:
Oh, NO, no no-no-no-no! I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but if they think I'm endorsing car accessories, they've got another dipstick-stick coming. No-No, they've tried this one before and I'm radial tired of it! If they expect me to change gear now and start spark-spark-spark plugging their products, they must be out of their pist-pist-piston heads! Listen, I don't like to blow my own gasket, but I have better things to do than just sit here and wax polish lyrical about car parts! Car parts! I've got letters from fan belts who say, "Max, you're special! You're unique! You're differential!" Yes, yes I know it's what they want, that's because they're air conditioned to it - to it. Oh - to it. Oh, I've fendered it off time and timing belt again. I mean, who's calling the tune-tune-tune up? Who's in cru-cru-cru-cru-cruise control here, anyway? I'll tell ya who! Me! Me! Max Headlamp! And if they don't like it, they can stick-stick-stick shift it in their exhaust pipes and choke-choke it! AND smoke it!
- Get the Pistons' perspective at Motown String Music.