The Detroit Pistons looked awful in their opener.
As I said in a recent article, part of that was the fact that it was the first game of the year. And some of you agree.
But that doesn't explain away every aspect of how bad they looked.
Today's game will be a true test of whether or not this team is as bad as I think they are based on their first game.
First off, this is a home game. New owner Tom Gores will no doubt be excited to show off his new team, and if his recent changes to the Palace of Auburn Hills are any indication, look for some new wrinkles in the way the game is presented. That should at least supply some excitement for the players.
Secondly, they know this Cleveland team well. They have already played twice against them this year, and while they were exhibitions, they were important exhibitions due to the length of training camp. This should provide for at least a marginally close game.
Lastly, Cleveland is not nearly as long as Indiana, and Greg Monroe likely will not be in immediate foul trouble. The Pacers pounded Detroit inside, and their guards got to the hoop at will. Cleveland's bigs are not nearly the inside threats that the Pacers have, and Detroit should have at least a puncher's chance down low.
This game is more important than you think. If the Pistons come out and lay an egg in front of the home fans, they may lose them for the year. This game sets the tone for the whole season.
Here are five things to watch for tonight.
Last year, the Pistons were guilty of some of the worst body language I have ever seen. Since over 70 percent of all communication is non-verbal (I just made that up), this helped explain a lot.
The season opener was bad on a number of levels. But the biggest concern to me was how bad their body language looked. Apart from a brief run they made in the second quarter, this team looked like they did not want to be there.
They weren't hustling, they were helping each other on defense and they weren't moving enough on offense.
To me, they looked like what I imagine Terrell Owens would look like if he were playing in the Canadian Football League next year. Kind of going through the motions and scared of appearing to play hard for fear of failing while expelling energy, which for some reason, appears to be worse than failing.
It's like the kid that does a terrible job working as a courtesy clerk at Meijers. In his mind, he is a superstar that is too good for his job. So by not trying at his job that he feels is beneath him, he gets some sort of pass in his mind.
However, the rest of us just see a kid that is useless even in a somewhat less than difficult job (my apologies to courtesy clerks everywhere; I have never been one, so I might not know what I'm talking about. I'm just saying that you aren't doing open heart surgery, but neither am I).
The exact antithesis of this is Jonas Jerebko. You get the feeling that he is the kind of guy that would clean his own fish or shovel his own driveway. He doesn't feel that he is above anything, so he tries on every play.
Given my own Protestant upbringing in the Midwest, I believe that this will lead to some sort of success, which makes me happy for him.
Now the rest of the guys need to get behind that attitude. Dive for loose balls, run down a fast break, take the charge. The Pistons need hustle guys these days, and hustle is all in the body language.
Ben Gordon is a sharpshooter. He was at his best when he was catching the ball and launching it. Give him an inch, and he will make room for his shot.
But against Indiana, he looked tentative, even lost. He had several wide-open looks that he squandered. His shot wasn't falling, so stop shooting and just drove to the hoop.
I like the idea of getting a couple easy buckets under your belt, but Gordon needs to launch the ball in order to spread the defense.
If the Pistons get penetration and dish it out, he needs to launch it.
If they feed the post and Monroe kicks it out, he needs to launch it.
Heck, if the Cavs accidentally throw it to him, he needs to launch it.
Gordon needs to reclaim his swagger, and that isn't going to happen unless he starts shooting the ball without fear of repercussions.
I know, the picture above isn't of the Pistons or the Cavs. But it is an example of a pick and roll. The big man comes up, sets a pick for the ball handler and then rolls towards the hoop for an easy shot.
Ideally, the guard will either go above or below the pick or switch with a big man who will then follow his man. This, of course, is just in a man-to-man defensive set. In a zone, he rarely will follow the original man.
For most of you, this is obvious basketball 101, so I apologize if this was patronizing. The reason I point this out is because the Pistons somehow forgot this.
If you watch the video, Brandon Knight in particular acted like he had never defended this play. But in the pro game, this play happens about every other possession.
The Pistons have fairly athletic big men that are capable of helping out on the pick and roll. Jerebko and Monroe in particular are keenly aware of how to step in, and both have quick hands. Heck, even Ben Wallace can still get some steals on this move, and he is playing on a Rascal scooter!
But the basic pick and roll defense feeds into a bigger issue, and that is to help-side defense and team defense in general. A team that is playing good, cohesive defense will usually beat a team that isn't, and they will improve their team chemistry.
I have to admit, I was on the West Coast for the Pistons two exhibition games, so the Pacers game was my first chance to see Brandon Knight with Detroit.
Suffice to say, I was not impressed. He looked lost on defense and tentative on offense. His decision-making was horrible, and he just seemed happy to get out of that gym alive.
But hey, it was his debut and he is very young.
But he needs to show some aggressiveness tonight. I want Knight charging into the lane with his exceptional quickness and setting up his teammates for easy looks.
I will always compare Knight to Kemba Walker since I personally was in the Walker camp before the draft. Walker looked much different in his debut, even making a clutch layup in a game that went down to the wire.
Walker relished the situation; Knight looked scared.
Knight needs to use his quickness to get the Cleveland guards feeling uncomfortable and get to the hoop to help get their bigs into foul trouble.
If he parks on the three-point line again, I will be very disappointed.
When the Pistons re-signed Tayshaun Prince, I called it a good move. I thought that the Pistons needed that move in order to avoid being historically bad, and that Prince could finally embrace a leadership role.
But in the first game, Prince looked like he wasn't even there. His body language was as bad as anyone's, and he wasn't sorting out the defensive assignments like I thought he would.
But the Prince is back home in his Palace, and he needs to play with more energy. More than anything, he needs to be the voice on defense, helping to lead the pick and roll and help side assignments.
Offensively, he needs to be the low post scorer that he can be, especially if Omri Casspi is guarding him. Prince should abuse him all night.
This is the perfect situation for Prince to have a big night.