The Detroit Pistons are 12-5 in their last 17 games, a stretch dating back to Christmas that includes a 23 point beatdown of the Cavs in Cleveland. They've lost their last two and Brandon Jennings though, and seem to be at a crossroads. Tonight may hint at what type of team they shape up as over the next couple months; Stan Van Gundy has said he won't sacrifice future assets to help this team now. They stand 17-28, but that doesn't disqualify them from the playoff race in this Eastern Conference. Greg Monroe has played like a borderline All-Star. Andre Drummond sometimes plays like a borderline All-Star.
What are they? I'm not sure anyone knows. They lack shooting and depth and struggle to defend. They play hard a lot of the time and are better with Drummond and Monroe sharing the court post-Josh Smith than when they are staggered. Some of this is attributable to a lack of depth. Some of it might be attributable to Van Gundy squeezing what he can from imperfect puzzle pieces.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have won six straight, and have sprinkled in wins over the Clippers, Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder over that stretch. LeBron James looks healthy and has been absurdly productive. He was your Eastern Conference Player of the Week. The addition of Timofey Mozgov has been a huge stabilizing force for the Cavs rotation. Sure, the rim protection is awesome and the Cavs will need that defense if title contention is something more than a pipe dream. But in the meantime, just having three bigs that can give serious minutes in Mozgov, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson gives the Cavs flexibility and balance that had been sorely missing.
Take the Thunder game. Mozgov found himself in foul trouble. In steps Tristan Thompson with competent play. Before that game, Mozgov stayed out of officials' crosshairs, and he could sustain heavy minutes. In games the two are clicking, David Blatt can ride the hot hand or play matchups. When one is struggling there is a competent backup. And so far, Thompson and Mozgov appear to be a competent duo for when Love needs to rest.
How the Cavs trio competes with Monroe and Drummond will be interesting. In December, Thompson played a good offensive game but could not keep Drummond off the offensive glass. With Mozgov, the Cavs should be able to neutralize this a bit better. Mozgov just isn't giving up the same size. Kevin Love made 5-7 threes on Sunday afternoon. If he could get that turned around it'd go a long way.
J.R. Smith has likewise been a revelation. Effective three point shooting! Wow. Kevin Love has been up and down from three point range, Irving and LeBron spend a lot of time with the ball, unable to spot up, and the Cavs could never incorporate Dion Waiters into the role. J.R. loves to shoot, and for the moment, is taking the right ones. We will see if that trend continues.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: Cavs 111, Pistons 99.