The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons will match up in the Motor City on Monday night. When the teams are relevant at the same time, there is no better place to be than Toledo, Ohio. The Cavs are not relevant, but it looks like this lottery could get them there. The Pistons are fighting mightily in this young season to prove they are right now.
There have been times that Toledo has been buzzing about this matchup. While the Cavs have had the upper-hand on recent playoff matchups, the Pistons probably sport the more healthy legacy. Being from this town creates some inherent contradiction — I’m a die-hard Browns and Cavs fan, but this commercial is literally the reason why I drive a Chrysler 200:
Aside from tribalism luring me into a car that went out of production in just four years, the biggest issue with Toledo fandom is the choice between the Lions and the Browns. For someone like me that chooses both, it’s just an unnecessary double-dose of frustration.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (2-12) vs. Detroit Pistons (7-6)
When: 7 p.m. EST
Where? Little Caesar’s Arena — Detroit, Michigan
Where on my eyeballs: Fox Sports Ohio, League Pass
Pistons injuries: Luke Kennard (OUT - shoulder)
Cavs injuries: Sam Dekker (OUT - ankle), Kevin Love (OUT - foot), George Hill (OUT - shoulder)
Alright you were probably hoping to read a little bit about basketball. The Pistons have played like a team with a new coach that is trying hard and has veterans who know how to play but also don’t make sense together in terms of basketball fit. Per basketball-reference, they’re the NBA’s eighth best defense in the young season but have the league’s 25th best offense. I saw them beat the Philadelphia 76ers early on in the season, and they are coming off an emotional victory over head coach Dwane Casey’s former Toronto Raptors. Those are pretty good teams.
Detroit has the athleticism, if not basketball acumen, to match up with most teams. Reggie Jackson is athletic and physical and thoroughly average. Andre Drummond is a physical beast. Blake Griffin remains frustrating to both those who expect him to be a superstar and those who want to say the game has passed him by — he’s hitting open threes now, sometimes. And then they have Reggie Bullock and some wings who look competent some of the time. They’re still desperate for shooting, and could use an upgrade at almost every position. Drummond is the biggest wild card; he’s probably ready to move on (he was booed at the game I went to) but he’s also probably better than most of the league thinks he is. So the Pistons front office is in a bit of a jam.
The problem then, is a team that, if you’ll pardon the pun, feels like it’s stuck in neutral, even if they do everything the right way and show up and play hard. There’s just not enough three point shooting, and Griffin and Drummond are just not a good enough fit, and even if they were there isn’t enough shooting at the 1-3 spots on the court, and hey it’s not really Drummond’s fault that Ish Smith is the team’s best point guard on a lot of nights and ... well, you see where we are.
Despite all this, they are kind of fun to watch. Again, they play hard. On any given night, one of these genuine NBA players can step up and help you win a game. They’ve gotten to 7-6 like this. They play with pride. They should handle the Cavs.
The Cavs have had a bunch of days off, and should theoretically be getting healthier. Collin Sexton should stay in the starting lineup. He’s showing progress. Cedi Osman is hopefully shaking off the back injury that came from playing power forward. David Nwaba should continue to get minute there.
The guy I want to see more of from Cleveland is Larry Nance Jr. Come on man, you signed the big deal. You’re where you want to be. Every one of us wants to buy in. We want to love you. It’s not easy without a pass-first point guard, we know. But let’s see you become a truly plus defender. Take the starting spot from Tristan Thompson. You have less miles on the tires. You have the ability to throw down some dunks that make us all happy and forget the team is 2-12. No one expects you to be the difference between a good team and a bad team; for now, just help a bad team grow.