Historically, the Detroit Pistons became the first opponent the Phoenix Suns defeated in the post-Nash era. On paper, the Pistons look like one of the worst teams in the NBA.
The tide has been changing in Detroit during the past few weeks.
After an 0-8 start, including the Suns’ 92-89 victory in Phoenix in the second game of the season, the Pistons have staggered the winning and losing, and are 4-3 in their last seven games. The Suns will head to the Palace of Auburn Hills Wednesday night hoping to continued Detroit’s trend of following up wins with losses. Head coach Lawrence Frank’s squad is coming off a Monday night win against the Portland Trail Blazers that marked the end of a 12-game losing streak to Western Conference foes.
Detroit is seeking its fourth win in a row at home.
Alvin Gentry’s crew must look no further than its first meeting with Detroit to see its opponent’s worn path of this season.
It starts in the lineup. Guard Rodney Stuckey, who was shut down by Jared Dudley in the second game of the year, was moved to the bench six games ago in favor of rookie Kyle Singler.
That has allowed the combo guard to have the ball in his hands more in playing both point guard and shooting guard, and it’s worked out well thus far. Stuckey scored 11 and recorded four assists Monday against Portland, and Singler has quietly made himself a force as a former second-round draft pick.
Singler scored 15 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had five assists in Detroit’s Monday victory, and his success goes as far back as the Pistons’ game against the Suns. The rookie hit a three-pointer with four seconds left to cut into a five-point Phoenix lead and add a little tension to the game before guard Brandon Knight missed a three-pointer that would have tied it at the buzzer.
To the starting lineup, the move has also given the Pistons a unique look. Knight, who has scored in the 20s during his last two games, is the only true guard in the starting unit and he has plenty of size.
So matchups will be key.
Phoenix’s first unit will be challenged with keeping the size and athleticism of Detroit’s front line off the offensive boards early, though with Markieff Morris starting rather than Luis Scola, the advantage of a springy Jason Maxiell might be negated some.
On the other hand, Phoenix’s bench looks like it has the upper hand. Though the Pistons might be looking to do to the Suns what the Suns did to Cleveland on Tuesday night — push the pace and tire the opponent — Gentry’s rotations could keep tired legs to a minimum.
Gentry praised his team’s keen eye in the matchup department on Tuesday night. The Suns repeatedly bullied Cleveland rookie Tyler Zeller in the post by feeding Jermaine O’Neal and Scola. Even Marcin Gortat’s highlight, a spin move and slam, was indicative of Phoenix focusing on attacking the Cavaliers’ soft spots.
Gortat, who struggled on both sides of the ball Tuesday, played only 24 minutes against Cleveland.
The Pistons could be a welcome sign for him to have a big game. In the teams’ first meeting, Gortat got the best of young center Greg Monroe, who had 10 points and six rebounds but only hit 5-of-17 from the floor. Gortat finished that game with 16 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.
Three keys for Phoenix
Feed Gortat and Beasley early. Two of the Suns’ most inconsistent players are such because of their aptness to get lost from the beginning of games. Of course, finding enough touches for Marcin Gortat and Michael Beasley is a touchy subject these days, but especially in the first quarter, it’ll be interesting to see where the ball is going. While worrying about strong starts for Goran Dragic and others isn’t so telling about how they’ll play as the game goes on, giving the ball to Beasley and Gortat is important simply for the sake of getting them involved and focused for the rest of the game.
As Paul Coro reported from Cleveland and as we witnessed when Dragic didn’t mentally stray after early turnovers, Gentry isn’t worried about his point guard so much as the others (see Beasley getting a plethora of touches early on against Cleveland).
Markieff Morris vs. Jason Maxiell. The Pistons’ power forward abused Luis Scola in the first meeting of this season simply with his athleticism. Now facing younger legs in Morris, it’ll be up to the Suns’ second-year forward to find Maxiell on box outs. Maxiell had four offensive rebounds against the Suns and scored in the double-digits in the first quarter thanks to second-chance points. Phoenix can’t allow that to happen, otherwise it could very well find itself behind after the first quarter. On the road, that’s not a good formula for winning.
Identify the three-point shooters. The Pistons usually won’t have more than two three-point shooters on the floor at a time, but the ones they do have on the floor are deadly. Brandon Knight (43 percent from three-point range) and Kyle Singler (47 percent) won’t take many, but they’ll sure hit the ones they do attempt. Outside of those two players, only Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva should be considered serious threats from the perimeter.