The Back Story:
There isn’t a ton of fascinating history between these two teams, but a few factors are worth noting: the Clippers haven’t lost to the Pistons in the last 5 seasons, and the Clippers destroyed the Pistons earlier this month in Los Angeles. Is there something about Blake Griffin that makes the Clippers immune to Detroit in recent history? Are the Pistons going to be fired up given the Clippers’ streak and the recent blowout?
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are still in the midst of one of the roughest stretches of their season—an entire month of November without more than 1 day off in between any games. Now, they’re one game into the hardest sub-stretch of this rough patch—a six game, six city, 10-day road trip that features the defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers and other playoff-caliber opponents. After handling business against the struggling Dallas Mavericks in the trip’s first fixture, they’re continuing to Detroit tonight.
With Wesley Johnson now back in the picture, the Clippers’ rotation is intact and while the wins rolled in during his absence, his defensive presence was missed on the second unit. Now, the team with the best record in the NBA and the best SRS (basketball-reference’s Simple Rating Score) in the history of the NBA can do their best to keep on winning games, dominating with both their starting and reserve lineups.
Are the Pistons in some early trouble? After winning 44 games last year and making the playoffs with a reputation of a tough and disciplined team under coach Stan Van Gundy, Detroit is now 7-9 in the young season and their starting point guard and leading scorer, Reggie Jackson, is still out with a knee injury. They’ll probably be all right once Jackson returns, and they’re still in 9th place in the conference, so they don’t have too much ground to make up, but it’s still troubling for a team that expects to challenge for a good playoff seed to be under .500 at this point in the season.
Tonight is a chance for Detroit, a balanced-scoring team anchored by Andre Drummond, to avenge a blowout from earlier in the season, prove themselves to the league, and right the ship after losing four of their last five.
- Road Warriors: The Clippers are a perfect 7-0 on the road this season, which is their best start on the road in franchise history. It’s also their second-longest ever road winning streak, with the franchise best being a 9-game run from the end of the 2014-15 regular season through the beginning of last year.
- Shooters: After struggles early in the season, Austin Rivers shot the ball so well in Dallas that he moved his three point percentage up to 32.5%. With Mo Speights (32.7%) and Jamal Crawford (32.8%) each also creeping back up towards the 33-36% range where they belong, the lone Clipper yet to find his shot is Wesley Johnson, who missed five games with a heel injury.
- Super-Subs: We all know how Jamal Crawford can (and has repeatedly) impact games off the bench, taking over entire contests with stretches of unguardable hot shooting. What might be a little more surprising is that in two recent games, other Clipper reserves have stepped up to take the lead. Marreese Speights’ fourth-quarter spark helped the Clippers take the lead against the Chicago Bulls last weekend, and Austin Rivers’ 22-point performance against the Mavericks on Wednesday is the highest scoring total for a Clippers reserve this season.
- Bench Unit: Yeah, the Clippers’ backups are potent individual weapons, but what’s shocking is how effective they are as a unit. Undeniably talented players who seem like they shouldn’t mix well together, this unit has defied expectations by posting a +17.2 net rating in 113 minutes played, making them one of the most effective units in the league. When Brandon Bass replaced Johnson, the Clippers’ net rating plummeted to -26.9, the worst in the NBA among lineups with 50+ minutes played. We know that Bass isn’t the only reason that those numbers are so drastic in such a small sample size, but it shows how tenuous this unit’s success is.
- Leaderboard watch: According to Clippers PR, Blake Griffin needs three more field goals to pass Elton Brand for 3rd on the franchise all-time list. He should pass Bob McAdoo for 2nd later this season, but he’ll have to re-sign with LA this summer in order to pass Randy Smith for first.
- Line Swaps: Doc Rivers has faced a lot of criticism over the years for not staggering his lineups and always leaving some starters on the floor. Instead, he’s preferred to play for extended stretches with 5 reserves on the court, which is why the Clippers’ starting lineup has by far the most minutes played of any 5-man unit in the league. The 2nd most? The Detroit Pistons’ starting lineup. We might see a good amount of time tonight with 10 subs on the court all at once.
- A Tale of Two Lucs: LRMaM has been spectacular this season, and he’s improved on both ends. While last year he was a very good defender, it seems as though a summer preparing to start on a contender has lifted his game to a new level. Last season, there were certain games where his impact was tangible as he shut down an opposing star—this year, it’s happening routinely. What’s even more surprising is that on the offensive end, Luc is much more assertive and effective, shooting corner threes well when given space, driving after pump fakes, and cutting off the ball
- Balanced Scoring: One reason why Mbah a Moute’s effectiveness could be limited against Detroit is that the Pistons lack a superstar perimeter scorer. There’s no Russell Westbrook or DeMar DeRozan to defend on this team—instead, he’ll likely match up with Tobias Harris, the highest-scoring Piston at 16.2 points per game. It will take a team effort from LAC to stop their individual match-ups, as the only Pistons starter who doesn’t average double-figure points is Ish Smith, who scores 9.6 a game. Off of the bench, Detroit features another double-digit scorer in Jon Leuer (10.4 points per game).
- Horrible Hair: I’m sorry, but I have to mention this. Pistons backup point guard Beno Udrih has awful hair and backup center Aron Baynes has the worst hair in the history of humankind. It’s a hideous man-bun with the sides shaved and a scruffy beard, and then he wears a plastic face mask with the strap going right around his hairline. If you’re thinking about not watching this game, watch just so that you can experience something that you can never understand—a person choosing to go on TV looking like that.
- Best Centers in the League? DeAndre Jordan was voted onto the All-NBA 1st Team last season in the center position, causing a little controversy. One popular sentiment was that Andre Drummond, who had better per-game averages than Jordan and also played on a playoff team, should have won the honor. Drummond instead won a spot on the All-NBA 3rd team. DeMarcus Cousins’ name will rightfully be in the conversation (as will others’), but some would argue that Jordan and Drummond are the two best centers in the NBA.
- Connections: Pistons backup SF Reggie Bullock was drafted by the Clippers and played in LA for a season and a half. Clippers VP of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank used to be the Pistons’ head coach, and Clippers assistants Mike Woodson and Brendan O’Connor were both assistant coaches in Detroit in the early 2000’s. Clippers guard J.J. Redick played for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy in Orlando, and the two have a good relationship.
- Opposing Perspective: There’s no game preview up at the time of this article, but check out Detroit Bad Boys for their coverage. The DBB guys are pretty cool—have a chat with them, but be respectful. Maybe offer a .gif of some red pandas as a peace offering.