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Preview: Thunder will be jetlagged vs. tough and slow Pistons

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SLUGGIN’

Yippie ki yay, Reggie
W. Bennett Berry

The Oklahoma City Thunder, fresh off a rebound win in Denver, head home to take care of the visiting Detroit Pistons. It will be the second end of a back-to-back, and the Thunder will be recovering from playing overtime in the Mile High City. Fortunately, the Pistons will be similarly gassed, having played the Clippers last night at home in Denver. Record-wise, both teams are struggling to get out of mediocrity. The Pistons are 8-9, and the Thunder are 9-8. The Pistons and Thunder last met on November 14th, with Detroit smashing OKC 104-88. No starter but Westbrook achieved double-digits for OKC.

Pistons

I saw Detroit play last night, and they were really impressive. I was expecting everything to fall apart for Detroit when their bench came on. And admittedly, the bench did allow at least one big Clipper run towards the end. But, at least early on, Jon Leuer was really impressive. When Marcus Morris was off the floor, Leuer did an adequate job of keeping Griffin away. And Leuer was his usual athletic self, even this reacharound dunk that I have to show you:

Beyond Leuer, the Pistons got wonderful performances out of all five of their starters. Ish Smith was probably the most surprising, hitting threes and shots off the dribble. It was far above anything I’d seen Ish Smith do in OKC. That being said, it’s really Morris and Harris that can get Detroit going. If Harris and Morris can generate their own points through spacing the floor or sizing up their defender on a regular basis, than Detroit is rolling. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tends to benefit from other players offense, which is why he has extremely inconsistent statlines. (It’s why I dropped him from my fantasy team, perhaps foolishly.)

Of course, Andre Drummond is the Piston centrepiece. At 15 points and 14 rebounds, he is more essential than any other player to the team. Baynes is a serviceable backup, but of an entirely different type. Baynes is more of a shot creator, and much less athletic. Drummond focuses almost exclusively on shots near the rim, and is a tremendous rim protector. You simply can’t replace that.

The big Pistons weakness in terms of lineups is easily their bench. Beno Udrih, the backup point guard, has a ton of experience. I’d never think of Udrih to make a bad decision. But his shooting has never really been good, and his once elite ability to get to the rim is now hampered by his age of 34. I do admire Udrih for getting matching hairstyles with Baynes, though. Really cute. Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije are the backup combo guards. Both are young prospects, but of the second round.

(Reggie Jackson has been out all year, but will debut soon. He’ll....probably make the Pistons better?)

Thunder

It was a really intense win last night, almost entirely fueled by Westbrook in the end. But Victor Oladipo was so essential to the run as well. If Oladipo can just get a few three pointers and half-court possessions to go down, things really start rolling. I alos like how reliable Oladipo’s mid-range is. It just seems to softly roll around on the rim every time. Scary, but reliable and better for oboards in the long run. (Unlike Ibaka’s misses, which would bounce 20 feet high.)

Our wing defense looks a little bit weak at the moment. Wilson Chandler managed 32 points, and Jamal Murray managed 20. But really, the Thunder were just running a steal-first defense against the Nuggets. It’s likely that the Thunder will do that again. So worse stats for guys like Smith or Drummond, better stats for guys like KCP, Morris, and Harris.

Morrow really stepped up, going 4-8 and being that source of offense that OKC needed. Unknown if he’ll have a role moving forward, but I feel like he deserves a chance. Hard to have Morrow and Kanter on the floor at the same time though. Speaking of Kanter, he’s been mildly disappointing. Lauvergne seems to provide what Kanter can’t, plus even better hands. Also props to Sabonis, who is so good at D that he literally tells other players where to go. I saw Sabonis direct Roberson, the defensive master, once last night. Sabonis is a rookie! Clearly, Arvydas trained his son in the ways of basketball from an early age. That, or Sabonis is a prodigy all his own.

Tonight

A quick look at the advanced stats tells you that the Pistons are very good at taking care of the ball, and defending shots. But the Pistons make bank mostly on the defensive end. So it’s going to be up to the Thunder to try to force the pace and make dangerous plays in order to do so. The Pistons are 24th when it comes to pace, so yeah.

Also, if the Thunder can manage it, it’s in their best interest to try and run up the score early. There are three instances this season where the Pistons left the first quarter down 10 or more, and were never able to recover. (Clips on Nov 7, Cavs on Nov 18, Raps on Oct 26).

Want a strange stat? The Pistons haven’t won a game by less than 9, or lost a game by more than 8. It must be a boring season for Piston fans. Let’s give them a game to cheer about....until they lose, anyway. If OKC can break this game open, it could be a lot more competitive than Nov 14th was.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 98, Detroit Pistons 97.

What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!

——

Injuries: Cameron Payne (Out), Reggie Jackson (Out), Reggie Bullock (Out)

Time: 7 PM CST

Place: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, Michigan

TV: FSOK, FSD+