For the first time in his career, Blake Griffin will play against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers visit the Pistons tonight in each team’s first game since the NBA Trade Deadline—and with the uncertainty that surrounds the deadline gone, both teams know exactly where they stand heading into the final stretch of the NBA season.
The Clippers sit in 9th place in the Western conference, just half a game out of the playoff race and in a five-way tie in the loss column with the entire bottom half of the Western Conference playoff picture. Four of those five 25-loss teams are in action tonight, meaning that seeding will probably shake up a little bit heading into the weekend. After the Clippers traded Blake Griffin to tonight’s opponent, the Pistons, questions surrounded L.A. regarding their competitiveness this season: was the intention to drop out of the playoff race and play the draft lottery? The front office insisted that the answer was no, and they backed that up at the trade deadline, holding on to veterans DeAndre Jordan and Avery Bradley. The team was reportedly willing to part with either for a suitable package, but also content to hang on to their two best defensive starters for the upcoming playoff push. Hopes of pulling off a first-round upset are likely dashed, but can this team still compete with teams like New Orelans, Denver, and Portland after this talent downgrade? They beat the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks in their first two games with this new group, but neither was an especially impressive performance against the league’s bottom-feeders. Tonight’s game will be a much better test.
The Pistons are in the same situation as the Clippers, but trending in the opposite direction. Detroit also sits in 9th place, but in the Eastern Conference, and they’re right in the race with teams like Philadelphia, Miami, and Indiana. However, unlike before the Griffin trade, when the Pistons’ playoff prospects seemed bleak, they now feel like a group with the top-end talent to be competitive in a series if they can stay healthy and find their way into the post-season. The new-look team is 4-0 since trading their starting shooting guard, 2018 first round pick, and 25-year-old leading scorer for Griffin, and they swung a pair of deadline deals to bolster their perimeter rotation, bringing in Jameer Nelson and James Ennis for a couple of second-round picks (former Clippers Willie Reed and Brice Johnson were flipped as salary filler in these two deals). Is the Pistons’ recent winning streak a flash in the pan, or has Stan Van Gundy built a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference? We won’t get a definitive answer tonight, but if Blake Griffin triumphs over his former club, it’ll be a big step in the right direction.