By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Less than a week ago, the Detroit Pistons were one of the best stories in the NBA. The team had gone 12-3 since the Josh Smith trade, undergoing a transformation worthy of Bruce Banner. Point guard Brandon Jennings was playing the role of the Incredible Hulk, putting up stats indicative of a top-15 player in the league to smash every opponent in sight. Greg Monroe, averaging 15.2 points and a career-high 10.3 rebounds per game, was getting legitimate all-star consideration. Suddenly, the Pistons had gone from one of the laughingstocks of the league to a group making a serious push for the playoffs in the admittedly JV circuit that is the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for fans in the Motor City, all of that came crashing down last Saturday night.
Saturday was when Jennings tore his left achilles tendon in a game against Milwaukee, since rendering him out for the season. Since then, Detroit has lost that game against the Bucks, in addition to contests against the Raptors and Cavaliers to enter play tonight on a 3-game losing streak. While back-up D.J. Augustin has filled in admirably for Jennings, averaging 27 points and 8.5 assists over the past two games, a veritable pall has overtaken the team without their floor general in the lineup. That’s not even to mention the trickle-down effect an injury has on your bench when a key player from the second unit is thrust into the starting lineup.
Not to say the Pistons are going to roll over tonight against the Sixers, although it will help they will be on the second day of a back-to-back after playing Cleveland last night. Detroit handily defeated the Sixers less than 2 weeks ago by hitting 15 threes, including 6 from Kyle Singler; they can certainly follow a similar recipe to success tonight. The Sixers will have to be much more conscious of maintaining defensive discipline on the perimeter against Singler, Augustin (who has hit 8-15 from three in the last 2 games), and both Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks.
Of course, a big reason those guys can get open is the attention drawn on the interior by Greg Monroe. I mentioned his stout stat line on the season earlier, and he’s picked up his production in Jennings’ absence with double-doubles in 5 of his past 6 games. The Sixers have often struggled defending the big front line of Monroe and Andre Drummond, both defensively and on the glass. I would suspect Coach Brown might decide to go with both Henry Sims and Nerlens Noel in the starting lineup and when those two Pistons big men are in the game. Luc Mbah a Moute acquits himself well against most power forwards, but similar to the Grizzlies game with Zach Randolph, Mbah a Moute would struggle against the much bigger Monroe. He’s also not the type of shot-blocking big man where there’s a ton of value in dragging him out to the perimeter when the Sixers are on offense (not that Mbah a Moute is any sort of great shooter in the first place).
No word yet on whether Michael Carter-Williams will return to the lineup for the Sixers after missing Monday’s contest due to illness. If he’s back on the court, he should be able to score in the lane or in the occasional post-up situation over the much smaller Augustin (generously listed at 6’0″). Given the absence of Jennings and the Pistons not coming into the game rested, the Sixers would have a real shot at breaking their own losing streak if MCW returns to action. If not, well, you saw the 74 points they put up against the Pelicans. If that’s the case, remember the team is playing for lottery balls anyway.