When: Saturday, October 28, 2017, at 7:30 PM Pt
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
How to Watch/Listen: Prime Ticket, AM 570
Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond
Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Clippers: Milos Teodosic (left foot) OUT, Austin Rivers (dislocated finger) Active
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have the best record in the NBA at 4-0. That’s tough to believe, especially considering the injury to Teodosic, but the Clippers have shown heart, grit, and their overall talent through the first few games of the season. They boast by far the best defensive rating in the NBA, anchored by Patrick Beverley hounding guards up top, and DeAndre Jordan patrolling the area near the basket. As long as those two players are healthy and playing a lot of minutes, the Clippers’ defense should be good (if not quite this good). The rest of the new starting lineup isn’t shabby either: nobody would mistake Blake Griffin or Danilo Gallinari for All-Defense players, but both are solid in their own way. Most importantly, everyone on the team has been incredibly active on defense thus far, rotating hard and correctly, and doing their best to contain their man one on one. It’s just been incredibly impressive, especially in the last two games (the Suns and Lakers aren’t exactly tough tests for defenses, though the Jazz are pretty horrid on offense too). Heck, the Clippers’ second round rookie, Sindarius Thornwell, was assigned the difficult task of guarding Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum last game, and he did a pretty good job! This team is doing everything right on that end so far. Let’s just hope it continues.
The offense has been somewhat less impressive, but that was to be expected. Additionally, Gallinari and Austin are still struggling shooting the basketball, and as soon as they progress back towards their usual shooting splits, the offensive numbers should increase quite a bit. Lou Williams has been fantastic off the bench, seemingly always coming through with a bucket when the Clippers need it most. He’s also been a more willing and able passer than I thought he was coming into the season.
The Pistons were one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA last season. Widely projected by most NBA pundits to take a step forward from the tough 8 seed they were in 2016, they instead flopped, missing the playoffs and providing perhaps the most joyless watching experience of the 2016-2017 season. They weren’t good on either end of the court, they looked miserable, and rumors of trouble in the locker room swirled.
The Pistons look better so far this season (albeit in an obviously tiny sample size). They are 3-2, and had good wins over the Hornets and Timberwolves. New addition Avery Bradley has brought top-notch perimeter defense as well as strong outside shooting, two things that the Pistons sorely lacked last season. Marcus Morris was a good player for the Pistons, but trading him has really unleashed Tobias Harris, who is averaging 23.6 points per game on 52% shooting from the field and 47% from three. There’s no way he stays that hot all season, yet he appears to have made a real leap in terms of aggressiveness and outside shooting. He looks like Melo-lite, a true go-to scorer who can relieve that burden off of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. Drummond has been typically ‘blah’ on defense, though his offensive game looks improved, and he’s hitting his free throws at a 72% rate through five games. Ish Smith is one of the best backup point guards in the NBA, and the rest of the Pistons bench isn’t bad either. In other words, they probably aren’t going to be a great team, but they look like a lower-tier playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference.
Matchup to Watch:
Blake Griffin vs. Tobias Harris
I talked above about how good Tobias Harris has been for the Pistons. And he has been. But Blake Griffin has been on another plane this season, a true MVP-level player in every sense of the term. He’s hitting three pointers at a career best (by far) percentage and rate, he’s getting to the line more than he has in years, and he’s hitting the glass harder as well. It’s been an overall effort from him, and that extends to the defensive end. Harris will be the toughest challenge he has faced thus far this season—he can hit the outside shot, make fadeaways in the post, and take slower defenders off the dribble. Blake will need to step out to Harris and respect his three-point shot, but can’t let Harris get by him at will either. Such a commitment on defense might take away a bit from his offensive duties, so look for Blake to perhaps facilitate more in this game. The other option, of course, would be to attack Harris on the other end (he’s an average defensive player at best), and try to wear him down or get him in foul trouble. No matter what, it should be a fun matchup.
· Return of Reggie: Old friend Reggie Bullock is returning to the Pistons tonight after finishing his five game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. He was awarded a 2 year, $5 million dollar contract by the Pistons this summer, despite only playing 68 games for them over the past two seasons. Coach Stan Van Gundy likes him a lot, and he figures to get minutes in the teens at the shooting guard and small forward positions off the bench.
· Clash of rookies: The Pistons’ 1st round pick in the 2017 draft, Luke Kennard, has been getting consistent minutes off the bench, though Bullock’s return should eat away at them a bit. He’s a good shooter, though that hasn’t been evident this season (1-7 from three). It’s possible he gets matched up with Clippers’ rookie Sindarius Thornwell, who has played limited rotation minutes the past two games. Thornwell is noted for his defense, and for the chip on his shoulder, so he might try to really hound Kennard, who was drafted over 30 picks ahead of him.
· Doc’s rotation: Speaking of Thornwell, Doc opened up his rotation against the Blazers on Thursday, adding Thornwell and Sam Dekker to the bench lineup. While Dekker only got a couple minutes, it’s possible that Doc is easing him in slowly. Thornwell, meanwhile, seems to fill more of a specific niche: defensive specialist. It’s rare that a rookie in the NBA isn’t a trainwreck on defense, but Thornwell seems to be one of those exceptions. He played Lillard and McCollum well, and they are two of the hardest players to defend in the entire NBA. If a wing on the Pistons gets hot, Doc might try to cool them down by sticking Thornwell on them. It would be great to see him continue his role in Doc’s rotation.
· Trap game: The Clippers are 4-0, and they have a huge matchup with the Golden State Warriors Monday night. The Clippers of yesteryear would have not taken the Pistons seriously, or not considered them much at all, instead looking ahead to the marquee game to come. While the Pistons aren’t bad, they aren’t great either, and it’s easy to overlook those teams when you have a rivalry contest against one of the greatest teams of all time the following game. The Clippers need to come out ready to play, or the Pistons will beat them. Patrick Beverley seems like the type of player to never take any opponent lightly; hopefully that attitude will be imbued throughout the entire team.
The game thread will be up, as usual, half an hour prior to game-time. Go Clippers!