Three months ago you wouldn’t even consider grouping the Cleveland Cavaliers together with the bottom-dwelling Detroit Pistons of the Central Division. Starting off the season with players who’d you thought would be ran out of Detroit by now (like Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace), sticking with these beloved veterans was just an indication that the Pistons were still in the process of getting the team back to it’s early 2000s state.
Between the 2001-02 and 2007-08 NBA seasons, the Pistons made the Eastern Conference Finals an impressive seven times and actually won the whole thing in 2004. Those were the days that players such as Prince, Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton were in their primes. Even though Prince still sees a lot of minutes as a starter, Hamilton and Billups have moved on to different teams and Wallace is no longer the defensive force that he used to be during the Piston’s championship runs.
The Cavaliers, with the help of critical injuries to Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson and some roster moves, have wiggled their way back into contention for last place in the Central. The Pistons (17-32) can move into a virtual tie with the Cavaliers (17-30) with a win Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 from Cleveland, and it looks like the Cavaliers have a pretty fair chance of coming away with a win.
Cavaliers (17-30, 9-15 home):
Key offensive statistics: Averaging 94.3 points (21st overall in NBA), 35.4 three-point percentage (12th) and 42.9 rebounds (10th)
Key defensive statistics: Averaging 99.2 points allowed (25th), 46.0 field goal percentage (25th) and 35.9 three-point percentage (23rd)
Player to watch: Tristan Thompson will have his word cut out for him as he goes up against Pistons’ big-man Greg Monroe. Considering the task that head coach Byron Scott has given Thompson since Varejao went down and Ryan Hollins was traded, he has filled the center role to his best ability. After his first start as a center, which he scored a season-best 27 points, Thompson has stayed quiet offensively for the most part.
What has impressed me about Thompson’s play is how he stepped up his defensive skills against true centers such as the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard. It may be trued that Thompson is being out rebounded by traditional NBA centers, but the rookie gives his opponent a struggle offensively whoever he gets matched up with.
Pistons (17-32, 5-20 away):
Key offensive statistics: Averaging 89.9 points (28th), 34.1 three-point percentage (17th) and 76.1 free throw percentage (12th)
Key defensive statistics: Averaging 95.9 points allowed (15th), 36.2 three-point percentage and 39.9 rebounds allowed (2nd)
Player to watch: On the other side of things the Pistons have a solid foundation in center Greg Monroe. Monroe is currently averaging a team-high 16.0 points and is bringing in 9.8 rebounds per game. All that while shooting 51.6 percent from the field makes Monroe a scary matchup for any player in the paint. Thompson will have to limit the number of shots that he takes in order to help his team come away with a victory Wednesday.
Cavaliers – Daniel Gibson, ankle, out for season and Anderson Varejao, wrist, expected back in late March
Pistons – Ben Gordon, groin, questionable
Should the Cavaliers be mentioned under the same category as the Pistons, or will the Cavs show that they can still muster out a late season surge?