The Lakers are heading east for a three game road trip after their most impressive win of the season. In the last game, the Lakers dispatched the East-leading Toronto Raptors in overtime behind a Kobe Bryant triple double. They will look to kick off their road trip with a win against the struggling Pistons who are in the midst of an eight game skid. As one of only two teams with fewer wins than the Lakers – the other being the winless 76ers – the Pistons are also looking for signs of life from their roster. Both teams undoubtedly feel that tonight’s game is winnable, and will do everything they can to notch a rare victory in their young seasons.
Frontcourt: Starting at center for the Pistons is Andre Drummond. He enjoyed a career year last season, averaging a double double and finishing second in total rebounds. While he has maintained similar production, his shooting percentage is down from a year ago, which has to be disappointing to Pistons fans. The Pistons had to have been hoping for more from Drummond on the offensive end, but he hasn’t really taken the next step. He remains unpolished on that end of the floor and is little more than a garbage man who will get a couple of put backs and dunks over the course of the game. He has been on a tear as of late though, averaging 16.2 points over his last five games, which is nearly six points above his season average.
Josh Smith and Kyle Singler start next to Drummond and along with Greg Monroe, they make up a Pistons frontcourt that really has trouble shooting the ball. The offensive dysfunction of this frontcourt is well documented and Monroe’s demotion to the bench in the last game was probably an attempt to mitigate these issues. That said, Singler is far from a tried and true floor spacer and Smith’s poor shot selection continues to leave much to be desired from the frontcourt rotation. Truth be told, Smith may be best equipped to lead the second unit as he is a capable playmaker who is averaging 4.6 assists per game.
Backcourt: At lead guard, Brandon Jennings will get the start in his second game back from a thumb injury that sidelined him for a short period. Jennings is a capable, albeit streaky shooter whose performance is critical to the Pistons’ success in that he can really spread the floor when he catches fire from beyond the arc. For a Pistons team that relies so heavily on its frontcourt, a couple early three pointers can work wonders in opening up the court for Monroe and Smith to play post up basketball. With season averages of 16.4 points and 5.8 dimes, Jennings isn’t quite the passer that many of his contemporaries are, but is a reliable ball handler (just 2.1 turnovers per game) and can be dangerous in transition, especially if Smith is running the floor with him.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the starting two guard for the Pistons. In his sophomore season, Caldwell-Pope has seen his minutes increase from 19.8 to 33.8 a game. He has been given a tremendous opportunity, but has largely failed to capitalize on it thus far as he is shooting just 37.0% from the field. However, the jury is still out on him as he is a very young player who has shown promise in the past. In fact, he is averaging 20.3 points on 44.4% shooting over his last three games and has also made eleven three pointers over that span. The Lakers will have to find a way to slow Caldwell-Pope down, especially from beyond the arc.
Keys to Victory:
Get Drummond into Foul Trouble: Like any team with a dominating defensive presence, the Pistons become much easier to attack when said option is on the pine. Andre Drummond has historically been very foul prone and he sports an average of 3.6 fouls in 29.5 minutes a game this season. The Lakers will have to attack him relentlessly to force him into watching the game from the bench.
Force Perimeter Shots: Detroit has improved significantly from beyond the arc, sitting at 17th in the league in three point field goal percentage as a team after finishing 29th last season. That said, they have a collection of very streaky shooters that have a hard time spacing the floor for the full duration of a game. Smith, Drummond and Monroe are serviceable players, but are hardly low post prodigies in the mold of Hakeem Olajuwon or Al Jefferson. They absolutely need the three ball to be falling to have adequate space to operate down low. The Lakers will be best served keeping the basketball on the perimeter and not down low where the Pistons prefer to operate.
Offensive Ball Movement: Ball movement on the offensive end has been a major key to the Lakers’ success. Kobe Bryant’s trigger happy mentality has been scrutinized all season, but he is coming off of a 12 assist game. He still shot the ball 24 times in that contest, but if the defense is giving him that many looks, he should take every one of them. The Lakers and their fans should be less fixated on Kobe’s field goal attempts. Not everything is quantifiable and it’s pretty clear when the Lakers offense passes the eye test as the ball is moving and players are getting their shots in rhythm.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are one-point underdogs against the Pistons according to Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (4-13) at Detroit Pistons (3-14)
4:30 PM PST, November 21, 2014
Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Pistons Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Brandon Jennings
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Singler
PF: Josh Smith
C: Andre Drummond
Key Reserves: PG: D.J. Augustin, SF: Caron Butler, PF: Greg Monroe
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers vs. Raptors: Kobe Bryant