My Detroit Sports: My Pistons Report #1

The NBA season is about 10% over as we enter November. New rules has made offense go up across the board to Doug Moe’s 80’s Nuggets levels. For the Pistons, while the majority of the roster remains the same from the 17-18 season, it was an extremely eventful offseason. Anthony Tolliver, James Ennis, and Eric Moreland were replaced by Zaza Pachulia an Jose Calderon and U of M alum Glenn Robinson III in free agency. Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas were added via the draft in the 2nd round. Former Piston Grant Hill was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and re-signed with FILA; two news items that will bring a smile to the faces of fans who remember the 90’s. Stan Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by Dwane Casey and in the front office by Ed Stefanski. Former Piston Tayshaun Prince and Michigan native Shane Battier were considered for front office roles before two time champion Malik Rose was hired.

The dual role of coach and general manager has not worked out well for any who have tried. All the Pistons had to show for the Van Gundy era was a first round sweep as an 8 seed. Expectations were a lot higher for a team that’s consistently had a top 10 payroll and is playing in a shiny new arena. It’s easy to change the seat covers to make the attendance problems less obvious to fans at home. It’s harder to change the culture in an organization that got stuck in a treadmill of mediocrity. That’s why it was time for radical moves. Rebuilding with the intention of securing a high lottery pick was going to be prohibitively difficult in a conference featuring the Hawks, Bulls, Magic, Knicks, and Cavaliers. Making bold moves to enter into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference wasn’t an option with no cap space or appealing trade chips (there’s a reason no one mentions the Pistons as a Jimmy Butler landing point. There isn’t enough in the cupboard to meet Minnesota’s high demand).

To address this concern, Dwane Casey was brought on board. He was available because of past playoff failures against the Cavaliers. Instead of dwelling on what the Raptors couldn’t accomplish during his tenure, it’s more important to look at what they were able to achieve. The enduring image of the Raptors was annual May slaughter in Cleveland. However, it’s easy to forget that Toronto was a trade away from tanking themselves. They hadn’t come close to a .500 season in the post-Bosh era and looked to be on their way to another losing season. In late 2014 Kyle Lowry was nearly traded to the Knicks. The Raptors wanted to make a run at the presumptive #1 pick in the 2014 draft: Canadian star Andrew Wiggins. Those plans were set aside as the Knicks backed out of the trade and the Raptors started winning. They won the division that year and three more over the next four seasons. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry started making all-star and Olympic teams. And on the sidelines was Dwane Casey, who got the most of his rosters and got his star players to buy in. He became a victim of his own success when his teams simply reached its ceiling. After more than a decade since the last playoff win, and limited roster flexibility due to cap concerns, second and third round exits sound rather appealing.

The new front office deserves kudos for bringing in a coach with a proven track record of maximizing the available talent.

The early results are promising. A familiar refrain this season will be that the East is now wide open. While that is true, it has been for some time. There is a top tier of teams looking to make the Finals: Boston and Toronto with Milwaukee looking to crash the party and the Sixers trying to will themselves into that group. Everything below that is up for grabs, just as its always been. There’s no reason the Pistons shouldn’t aim for a 4-6 seed or better.

That said, the 4-0 start was a bit of fools gold. Three of the first four games were at home against the Nets, Sixers, and Cavaliers with a road game in Chicago mixed in. Only one of those teams is projected to make the playoffs. The fact that it was an incredibly exciting overtime game where Blake Griffin exploded for 50 points, 20-35 from the field with 14 rebounds and 6 assists (although amazingly he shot better from 3 point range, 5/10, than the foul line, 5/11), fueled fan excitement.

Andre Drummond and Joel Embiid battling on the court and twitter after the game leads to dreams of what drama a 7 game series could bring. But the other wins were also by small margins against teams that have not been competitive so far this season. The Bulls and Cavs are a combined 3-13 to start the season, and while Brooklyn plays hard, they often have a talent deficit.

That’s why the subsequent 3 game losing streak was not a surprise. The Celtics came into Little Caesars Arena and blew the Pistons out last Saturday. Detroit played the Celtics much closer in a rematch in Boston, but ultimately fell 108-105. The losing streak was extended as the Pistons played a back to back in Brooklyn. The game went to overtime, and former Piston Spencer Dinwiddie hit a 3 pointer over the outstretched arms of Andre Drummond to give the Nets a 1 point win.

So what have we learned over the first 7 games? The Pistons are right now a middle of the pack team. They’re 20th in offensive efficiency and 14th in defensive efficiency. Blake Griffin is embracing his role as a scorer and a facilitator and is playing All-Star level basketball. Andre Drummond’s 3 point shot is still somewhat theoretical in actual game play, but he’s averaging more 3 shots per game than he ever has in his career while still leading the league in rebounding and hitting free throws at an over 60% clip. Improvement will come from improved shooting from Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, and Stanley Johnson. All are shooting in the mid 30% range so far this season. Reggie Jackson is still shaking off the rust and returning to his previous form. Stanley Johnson’s shot may be failing him, but he’s played with a different energy that makes you think that the 22 year old is ready to take a step forward and be a real contributor. Luke Kennard has been out but his return will add some much needed shooting to the rotation. The bench is a work in progress. Ish Smith remains as productive and fun to watch as ever, but he’s changed his shot selection this season to maximize his offensive potential. It hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Hoopshype writing an article on this very subject (https://hoopshype.com/2018/11/01/detroit-pistons-ish-smith-midrange-three-pointers/). The rest of the bench is a work in progress, with almost every active player seeing the floor each night. Everyone has contributed and it gives the Pistons the type of depth required to succeed over a long 82 game season.

When you see Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and most of the rest of the team from last year suit up it may seem like Pistons as usual. But there have been a lot of subtle changes on and off the court. Let’s see if they can prove themselves over the next month with a 12 game slate that includes a number of winnable games at home mixed in with road games against the Raptors, Rockets, and a rematch against the Sixers and matchups at Little Caesars Arena against those same Rockets and a Heat team looking to make the playoffs.

My Detroit Sports: My Lions Report #1

After a dismal preseason, the Lions going 1-4, the outlook for the 2018 season looked uncertain. The Jets had questions of their own, with a rookie quarterback leading the helm.

Monday Night Football, the stars were certainly out with Eminem serving as the honorary captain. Barry Sanders, Twitch streamer, Ninja and former ESPN analyst, Jemele Hill were also, among those in attendance. Detroit did not disappoint, early on, Quandre Diggs picking off Sam Darnold to run 37 yards to put the Lions up, 7-0.

The Jets would respond with a touchdown of their own, from Isaiah Crowell, tying the game at 7-7 to end the 1st quarter. Jets would add a field goal and another TD, Darnold connecting with Robby Anderson to put the Jets up, 17-7. Matt Prater would be the Lions lone offense, kicking a 21-yard field goal to conclude the half. Building off Prater, the Lions opted to have the ball in the 2nd half, winning the coin toss. The momentum would continue in Detroit’s favor when, quarterback, Matthew Stafford found Golden Tate for the 24-yard TD to tie the game, 17-17.

Detroit would not score again, getting ransacked to a 48-17, loss to start the season.

WEEK 1: Recap

On the road at Levi’s Stadium, the Lions faced the San Francisco 49ers. Week 2 provided to be too little too late, producing the same result.

Kenny Golladay and Matt Prater provided the offense in the early in the contest. Golladay with a 30-yard touchdown from Matthew Stafford in the first and Prater with the extra point and an additional field goal. The Lions were down 13-10 to close out the half.

Jimmy Garroppolo would put the Niners up even more, early in the third with a 11-yard pass to Garrett Celek. Prater would respond with another field goal, but Detroit couldn’t stop the bleeding, as Matt Brieda rushed 66 yards to the end zone. Enter the 4th quarter. Quarterback, Matthew Stafford turned it up a notch, as he’s done his entire career, finding Marvin Jones for the TD to cut the lead to 10.  Stafford threw another 15-yard pass to Michael Roberts, to put the Lions within 3, but the run would stop there as Detroit fell to 0-2 on the season.

WEEK 2: Recap

In Week 3, Detroit got the spotlight again in Sunday Night Football at Ford Field against one of football’s greatest dynasties, the New England Patriots. New England suffered the 31-20 loss to Jacksonville the week prior, but unfortunately for the Lions, the Patriots still have Tom Brady. The Michigan alum, had never lost against the Lions in his career, so Detroit would have to pull out all of the stops to defeat New England.

The Lions jumped out to an early lead against the Patriots. 2 field goals from Matt Prater and touchdown from Kenny Golladay came before the half, putting Detroit up 13-0. Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson came away with a huge stop, late in the 2nd quarter, holding New England to 3.

Tom Brady made things interesting, connecting with James White for the 10-yard touchdown, putting New England within a field goal to tie. Matthew Stafford would counter with a 33-yard TD of his own to Marvin Jones.

Prater added a pair of 30-yard field goals in the 4th to add to the lead. The Lions defense made sure the Patriots would not score again. A huge sack by Eli Harold and a Darius Slay interception in the 4th would seal the deal, as Detroit came away with the upset, 26-10, win over New England. Their first of the season and first win for new head coach, former New England defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia.

The story here, was rookie running back, Kerryon Johnson, the ‘Player of the Game’ ran for 16 carries and 101 yards. The Lions first 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013.

WEEK 3: Recap

Fresh off their huge win against New England, Lions star wide receiver, Golden Tate, his wife Elise Tate and the Golden Future Foundation gave back to military veterans for the 4th annual, “Stars & Strikes” event held at Lucky Strike in Novi.

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In Week 4, the Lions traveled to Arlington to take on the Cowboys. Despite TJ Lang being taken out early with a concussion, Detroit was off to a good start when Matthew Stafford connected with Golden Tate for the 45-yard touchdown to put the Lions up 7-3 in the 1st quarter.

It would be all Cowboys from there, as quarterback, Dak Prescott added two touchdowns of his own, to Ezekiel Elliot (38 yards) and Geoff Swiam (1 yard). Dallas carried the 20-10 lead into the 4th quarter.

Fan favorite, rookie Kerryon Johnson would open the 4th with his first career touchdown. Golden Tate would make things interesting with a touchdown of his own, 37-yarder from Stafford to give the Lions the 24-23 lead.

However, it was too little, too late, as the Cowboys were able to get within field goal range for the Brett Maher 38-yard field goal, as time expired.

WEEK 4: Recap

As the calendar turned to October, the Lions returned home to face division-rivals, Green Bay Packers in a rather, “bizarre” game to say the least.

Green Bay won the coin toss, opting to defer the ball to Detroit. The Lions were unable to capitalize on the drive forcing the punt, however a Green Bay receiver deflected the ball and Jamal Agnew was able to recover at the 1 yard line, giving the ball back to Detroit. LeGarrette Blount was rush it in, giving the Lions the early lead.

And because it was so nice the first time (and first as a Lion), Blount did it again before the end of the 1st quarter.

The Lions defense put the pressure on the Packers when Romeo Okwara came away with a sack and fumble on Aaron Rodgers. Devon Kennard with the recovery.

Okwara caused another Rodgers incompletion near the end zone, forcing the Packers to attempt the field goal. Mason Crosby would miss his third field goal of the day, holding the Lions lead, 17-0. The next Packers possession would be short-lived as DeShawn Hand came away with another Aaron Rodgers fumble, leading to a Stafford-to-Jones touchdown to end the half. But the Packers would not go down quietly, as Rodgers owned the 2nd half. Connecting with Marquez Valdes-Scantling for the 3-yarder, 2-point conversion to Jamaal Williams, followed by a Lance Hendricks touchdown, bringing the Packers within 10.

Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay would seal the win with a 5-yard touchdown in the 4th, giving the Lions the 31-23 win, heading into a much needed bye week. Mason Crosby went 1 for 5 in field goal attempts for Green Bay.

WEEK 5: Recap

We will be continuing to look for the best Lions fans in Detroit and on the road on Instagram, so keep representing the D and you could win this autographed photo of Golden Tate!

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