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Clippers-Pistons Preview: Stay On the Gas

The Clippers return home after an outstanding two-game road grading of Western rivals.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Detroit Pistons Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

So if the Clippers beat the Spurs by 24, then they’ll beat the Pistons by, like, a million or something. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

Exaggeration aside, that was some damn impressive stuff from Blake Griffin and company on Saturday night. That’s the kind of rollicking play many expected from Blake in what will hopefully be a full, prosperous, and mild-mannered season. And the Clippers played on the highest difficulty level, 24 hours and 700 miles after a bruising night in Memphis, as all basketball nights in Memphis are.

But the real story is the sparkling defense. Ahem, excuse me, the sparkling FIRST-RANKED defense (by defensive efficiency). In a plot twist few would have foreseen, it’s not Detroit who’s more likely to bring the D tonight.

The Antagonist:

The Pistons have begun their 2016-17 campaign in solid fashion, charged by a 4-0 home start, but it’s fair to note that they come into Staples Center running a few horsepower short. Stan Van Gundy’s engine, the lanky, turbocharged Reggie Jackson, is scheduled to resume basketball activities today after sitting the past month with tendinitis in his left knee, but those basketball activities don’t include suiting up and taking the floor tonight against the Clippers. In fact, it will still be several weeks before Jackson takes Detroit’s offensive wheel again. In his place, Van Gundy inserts Ish Smith into the Pistons’ egalitarian approach. Much as it’s been the past two seasons, the Detroit starters share the load. All five enter tonight’s tilt averaging between 10.5 and 14.5 shot attempts per game. That’s the kind of balanced attack they’ll need to lean on as they attempt to crack the league’s FIRST-RANKED defense.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Pistons offense is mediocre again after being mediocre last year and mediocre the year before. Stan Van Gundy is limited by the abilities of his personnel — cough, mostly personnel he has picked, cough cough cough — but the Pistons don’t make it easy on themselves. They enter tonight 28th in free throw attempts and 29th in three-point attempts.
  • The schedule. Revenge games against Portland (Wednesday) and at Oklahoma City (Friday). It’s starting to feel like every Western Conference matchup is for revenge.
  • Padding the win column. The Eastern Conference has come a long way from the (L)Eastern Conference days, but it is still the lesser of the two NBA halves. In what could be a tight race for the top playoff seeds, the Clippers must take advantage against every outmatched opponent, especially a road-weary one, beginning tonight in their first interconference matchup. Such is life with heightened expectations.
  • Battle of the boards. DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond have finished 1-2 in rebounding in each of the past three seasons. Jordan came out on top in 2014 and 2015 before being bested by the Detroit center last season. Drummond enters tonight’s game atop the league after tallying his third 20-rebound game of the season. Drummond now has 30 such games since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, two more than DeAndre.
  • Jon Leuer, 6th man. The seventh-year big man from Wisconsin is averaging a career-high 26.5 minutes per game, which leads all Detroit reserves. Jamal Crawford doesn’t yet have to worry about the power forward coming after his 6th man crown, but Stan Van Gundy clearly loves what the floor-spacer brings to his squad.
  • Boban! The gargantuan former Spur is a delight to watch when he’s on the floor. The 7’3” center from Serbia is a giant among tall human beings. If water covers 23 of the Earth, the rest is covered by Boban’s hands. Alas, the man hasn’t been on the floor often -- he’s logged just 10 minutes this season. Root for a big Clippers win (duh), then root for an appearance by Boban. (Side note: Boban and Sixers’ stud Joel Embiid are now listed as less than an inch apart in height, which makes the cavernous difference in their agility all the more notable.) (Side note to the side note: If you’re not watching Embiid, you should be.)