Piston update. Detroit quietly closed the 11/12 season in vastly improved form, recovering from a 4-20 start to go .500 over the final 42 games. So with a nice core of youngsters headed by the blossoming Greg Monroe, Lawrence Frank's bunch was probably hoping for to make some noise this year. Playoffs? Well, that might have been a bit ambitious, but you never know. An improvement on their 25-41 record? Certainly seemed reasonable, even with Ben Gordon's salary dumped for the immortal Corey Maggette.
So far, not so good. After losing their first eight games, the Pistons have been trying to dig themselves out of a hole for the second straight season, with another six game losing streak in December further complicating the task. The good news is that they have a bit of momentum right now: three wins in their last four include a ten point win over the Heat on Friday and a double overtime loss in Atlanta. Taking down the Wizards for the other two wins isn't quite so impressive, but there's certainly something to be said for taking care of business. Which is exactly what the Bucks will be hoping to do tonight: show up, play hard and beat a team that they're supposed to beat.
Detroit is slightly below average on both ends, so this isn't a team that has a clear identity yet. They play slow and rank between 10th and 20th in each of the four offensive factors (eFG%, TOV%, OReb%, FT/FGA), while defensively they're dead last in forcing turnovers and between 10th (eFG% allowed) an 21st (DReb%) in the other three areas. One thing they have been good at: holding opponents to just 32.7% three point shooting, second best in the league.
Rewind. Back in early February, the Bucks arguably hit the high point of their 11/12 season when Brandon Jennings inspired a monster comeback win over the Heat at the Bradley Center. The win was the Bucks' third straight and improved them to 10-11 at the time, with a trip to Detroit standing between them and a return to .500. Jennings was a legit all-star candidate, the Bucks were actually getting some of that elusive local buzz, and things might have been turning around even with Andrew Bogut on the shelf as usual.
Alas, it didn't happen. The Bucks laid an egg against the Pistons and would lose seven of nine as part of a disastrous February, and a strong-ish close to the season would still leave them short of the playoffs for a second straight season. And so it goes.
Young bigs. Both teams prominently feature young talent up front, which should make this a fascinating fixture for years to come. You know all about Larry Sanders emergence in Milwaukee, but the Pistons have two potential crown jewels in the smoothly skilled Greg Monroe and beastly-but-raw 19-year-old rookie Andre Drummond. After his breakout sophomore campaign, Monroe continues to put up numbers (15.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg) but at reduced efficiency, with his true shooting efficiency dropping from a robust 56% last year to just 51% through 32 games this year (league average is 53%). Detroit has also been much better with him on the bench: though Monroe is known mostly for his offense, the Pistons play the same defense but score much more effectively (+12 pts/100) with the former Georgetown star on the bench. Don't see that continuing for long, but it does suggest something hasn't been right with the starting unit so far.
Then there's Drummond, the second-youngest player from last year's draft who's already making a big impact in limited playing time. Other than his complete inability to make free throws, Drummond has done everything Pistons fans could have hoped: a terrific 20.7% rebound rate, a league-leading 16.9% offensive rebounding rate, 56% true shooting and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes. He does all of his damage inside five feet and finishes 66% of his shots at the rim, and Detroit has been significantly better with him on the court.
Larry. Sanders notched his fifth double-double of the month (16 points, 11 rebs, 4 blocks) and third in the last four games against the Heat. Sanders was benched early in the third after his failed box outs allowed three Heat reloads, but he responded with the kind of energy we've come to expect of the much-improved third year pro, scoring eight big points in the Bucks' 42-14 run to close the game.