It should be a matchup between Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, the top picks in the 2021 NBA Draft. It should be a game of up-and-coming teams, emerging from the depths of terribleness, that people actually want to watch.
Instead, it’s the worst. I don’t mean the game, I mean the teams. Houston sits last in the league with an 11-38 record, while the Pistons sit 1.5 games back at 13-37. These teams are playing for nothing of note. They want their young guys to do well, but not well enough to sabotage their overt-tanking efforts in the race for Victor Wembanyama.
Where: Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, MI
When: Saturday, January 28 at 7 pm EST
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons -5
Like I said, this game would be great if it were Cade-Jalen II.
These teams actually faced off on ESPN last season as Green scored 23 for Houston and Cade scored 20 for Detroit in an 112-104 win for the Pistons. Jerami Grant led the way in that one with 35 points. Obviously, that doesn’t matter tonight.
But, to me, the most interesting storyline here is unfortunately dead.
Green was ruled out on Friday evening with a calf injury, meaning he will miss the game and subsequently dodge playing in Detroit for the second time in as many years. If you don’t remember why that’s notable, let me remind you:
Green on Detroit in GQ Magazine in July 2021: “Number one pick, that would be a dream come true. I want to live in Detroit.”
Green to Yahoo Sports! in August of 2021: “I wanted to be the No. 1 pick, but as for the location, I didn’t want to be in Detroit. I felt a lot more comfortable in Houston. It felt like a real homie environment. With Detroit, it felt like I was just going back to the G League bubble, and I just got out of the bubble. That’s pretty much what it was.”
“I wouldn’t be stepping outside in Detroit. There are not many things you can do in Detroit like that. You’re going to stay in the gym and then go back to your apartment.”
Who knows how hurt Green is — maybe it’s just precautionary maintenance for a young guy during a long season — but it sure is funny that he’s out in Detroit considering all that he said about it.
Maybe Green dodging the city of Detroit will blossom into the new “Lonzo Ball dodging De’Aaron Fox” in the NBA?
Anyway, Houston is a mess on a number of levels.
There’s a lot of Dwane Casey chatter in these parts of the Internet, but one thing I will say is he’s kept the Pistons functional and stable. They aren’t a dysfunctional dumpster fire. They aren’t such a big mess that former players are airing their dirty laundry on podcasts like we’ve seen with Rockets.
Though Green won’t be there to shoot 6-of-25 from the field — and backcourt-mate Kevin Porter Jr. is out with injury — the Rockets still have firepower. Eric Gordon will probably start and shoot, a lot. Jabari Smith Jr. has struggled, but opposing power forwards have had their way with Detroit this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rookie get some easy looks tonight.
The biggest challenge will be slowing Alperen Sengun. The Rockets’ second-year center has been a revelation this season, flashing a Diet Jokic game that has really been exciting to watch. He’s their most reliable piece and the hub of their offense. Slow him, slow them.
I’ll be interested to see how Jalen Duren does in that matchup as he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble on defense but should be able to take advantage of Sengun’s low-athleticism game on the other end.
Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes have a dream matchup against Porter Jr. and Green, while neither team plays defense, so, this might be a fun-bad game if points are your thing.
Houston Rockets (11-38): Eric Gordon, Joshua Christopher, KJ Martin, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengun
Detroit Pistons (12-36): Jaden Ivey, Alec Burks Bojan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, Jalen Duren
Will this game matter in the “tank” standings when it comes to the NBA Draft Lottery or are both of these teams bad enough that it won’t matter?