Detroit will face the Los Angeles Clippers tonight for the first of six straight road encounters along the west coast.
The young Pistons will embark on arguably their toughest stretch of the season without the services of Cade Cunningham (shin soreness) and Isaiah Stewart (sprained toe). There’s a chance Cunningham is able to suit up next week, but Stewart has been ruled out for the next 2-3 weeks.
Though the Clippers boast an above .500 record, a mixture of health and poor offense has plagued the title hopefuls in the early part of the season. After missing all of the 2021-2022 campaign due to a knee injury, Kawhi Leonard once again finds himself on the sidelines with no return date.
Following two days rest, tonight provides a great opportunity for Detroit to win their first game against the Clippers since Blake Griffin’s revenge game back in January of 2019.
Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, CA
When: 10:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons (+9)
3 Things to watch for
1. Who replaces Stew in the starting line-up?
Man, could this team please remain healthy for just one week?
Dwane Casey has to be cursing the basketball gods with the team’s injury luck of late. As one key rotation piece returns, an equally important player seemingly goes down with injury, as was the case Monday night. After a month of waiting to see the Marvin Bagley-Isaiah Stewart frontcourt pairing, Stewart lasted only 12 minutes before suffering a sprained toe towards the end of the second quarter, once again leaving the starting line-up in flux.
The question now begs; who will Casey insert to the starting line-up?
The first option that comes to mind would be to re-inject Saddiq Bey back into the starting group. However, a starting front-court of Bogdonavic, Bey and Bagley could spell disaster on the defensive end.
If Casey were to maintain the jumbo sized front-court, Nerlens Noel or Jalen Duren are the two candidates to nab a starting role. Although Duren would be the popular choice amongst fans, Stewart’s absence provides Detroit the chance to showcase Nerlens in a starting role, maybe with the hope of boosting the veteran center’s trade appeal.
2. Clippers lockdown defense
The Clippers have been BAD offensively this season.
Their scoring rate of 105.9 points per 100 possession currently ranks 29th in the league, per NBA.com. Los Angeles has leaned on a host of outrageous performances from Paul George to keep their heads above water offensively.
On the flip side, the Clippers have been outstanding on defense this season. Through 15 games, Ty Lue has his team playing top-flight defense, holding opponents to 107.4 points per 100 possessions (#2 in the NBA).
The catalyst behind LA’s lockdown defense is 7-year big man Ivica Zubac. The 7-foot Croatian is having a breakout season, averaging a double-double and career-highs in minutes (30.4), rebounds (10.1) and blocks (2.1) per game. More importantly, Zubac has been a master deterrent around the basket, holding opponents to 40.7% shooting within six feet of the basket.
Zubac’s rim protection, plus the team’s bevy of wing defenders, has kept the Clippers afloat amidst their offensive rut.
3. Jaden Ivey as the lead initiator
With Cade Cunningham out the past three outings, Jaden Ivey has put together a solid stretch of play, averaging 19 points and 5 assists on 41.7% from three and 42.9% shooting overall.
The 20 year-old will have at least the next couple of games to get important on-ball reps, with Cunningham projected to miss the pair of LA games. Although turnovers are to be expected, it would be nice to see Ivey commit less than his current rate of 4 giveaways per night.
A specific area to watch tonight will be how Ivey fares finishing against the Clippers superior paint defense. The zippy guard has shown an ability to finish through contact at an above average rate so far, especially for a rookie.
Detroit Pistons (3-12):
Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley, Jalen Duren (this is a pure guess)
Los Angeles Clippers (8-7):
Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Question of the Day
Who was your favorite of the three ex-Pistons currently on the Clippers roster; Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson or Marcus Morris Sr.?
(I loved me some 2015-2016 R-Jax — I’ll never forget his 40 points in Portland)