Currently, the Los Angeles Lakers are 3-10. Despite the extremely underwhelming record, the vibes seem a little better. Again, they had many days off to get right physically and mentally. The last time they were on the court, they had a rousing victory (without LeBron James, nonetheless!) over the Brooklyn Nets, who may be the only team that has worse vibes than the Lakers. They have guys coming back from injury (more on that later). And the Lakers are going back to playing basketball against an ideal opponent.
How is it ideal? Well, the Detroit Pistons are the Lakers’ opponent on Friday night. The Pistons haven’t been a powerhouse team during my entire stay in Twitter and they may never be in its lifetime should it go down in the near future. But I digress. While Detroit made the postseason in 2016 and 2019, they didn’t win a single playoff game. In fact, the last time they won a game in the postseason was in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Celtics dispatched them on the way to the NBA championship.
The Pistons have been toiling in lottery territory since that 2019 playoff appearance. They’ve piled up some young talent with Killian Hayes (#7 in the 2020 draft), Cade Cunningham (first overall pick in 2021), Jaden Ivey (#5 this summer), and Isaiah Livers (second-rounder in 2021). Detroit also got some more young players through trades in Saddiq Bey (#19 in 2020), Isaiah Stewart (#16 in 2020), Jalen Duren (#13 this summer), Hamidou Diallo (second-rounder in 2018 and 2019 dunk champion!), and Marvin Bagley III (#2 in 2018… we know what he’s most infamous for). Yup. These are baby Pistons.
Of course, they have some veterans. Bojan Bogdanovic came over from Utah and he leads the team in scoring (20.1 points per game). Alec Burks provides some scoring punch off the bench. Cory Joseph, who won a ring with the Spurs in 2014, gives some spot minutes at point guard. Nerlens Noel hasn’t played much but he is a much-needed rim protector. And Kevin Knox and Rodney McGruder are also on the team.
The Pistons are 3-11. They are not a good NBA team. It’s kind of sad to see them in this shape because they have such a storied history. But with so much youth that is still developing, it’s really no surprise that their record isn’t great. The organization and their fans just hope that this all pays off very very soon.
And the Pistons might have something! Cade Cunningham is not expected to play but his game is well-rounded (19.9 points, 6.2 boards, 6.0 assists per game). Saddiq Bey is a scorer (15.4 PPG) but has struggled with the three (.297). Jaden Ivey has had an impressive start (16.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 dimes per). Jalen Duren has been a boon on the defensive end.
They really need more of that because this team, with all the youth, struggles on nearly everything. Their defensive rating is 29th out of 30 teams; they allow 116.4 points per 100 possessions. The Pistons have a harder time getting buckets than most; 27th in offensive rating (107.1 points per 100 possessions). They are also second last in points per game (107.4 points per game).
Putting it in is tough: Pistons are last in field goal percentage at .425. Shooting from distance is also difficult: Detroit is 29th in three-point percentage at .320 (oh, we all know who is last). What the Pistons are good at is getting to the line; they lead the league in that category.
Now the Pistons had an admirable effort against the Clippers (with Kawhi Leonard back, too!) on Thursday night. But that also meant that they’re doing another back-to-back (which is, unfortunately for Detroit, their fifth this season). And they’re going to move on without Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart (who had a nice little tussle with LeBron last season).
The Lakers have to take advantage of this. Again, they are very rested and they are going against a tired, not-so-great NBA team. The Lakers absolutely cannot blow these games if they want to get back to .500 (which is admittedly quite a long way away).
And help is on the way for these Lakers. Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant are expected to play on Friday night. Schröder is back after a one-year exile (spent time in Boston and Houston last season). He gives the Lakers a much-needed attacker and speedster on the offensive end. Thomas Bryant also returns to the Lakers after four years with the Washington Wizards. He has not had the best injury history (especially with a torn ACL in early 2021) but when he’s healthy, he’s got quite the motor.
LeBron James is deemed questionable for Friday night but Max Christie is out due to health and safety protocols. Christie has showed no fear in taking the three and staying in front of his man.
What made the Lakers tick against the Nets on Sunday was the way Anthony Davis finally dominated (37 points in their last game). He can do the same thing against the Pistons. Russell Westbrook is still aces off the bench. Lonnie Walker IV has really been bringing it. While they’re still last in three-point shooting, it has been coming around as of late (.366 in their last 6 games). If they’re not careless with the ball (only 9 turnovers against the Nets), they should be okay. L.A. has to have the mentality of one game at a time. And before they know it, they can be back on track.
Lakers vs Pistons. It’s not exactly Showtime against the Bad Boys. But a victory over these hapless Pistons can go a long way for these struggling Lakers.