It’s something of a tradition to pore over the recently released schedules and start to visualize the way the season will take shape. Better folks than I have already done the leg work, analyzing the brutal stretches, the nationally televised appearances, the awkward games (Brandon Knight returns to the Palace!), and all the possibilities for making or breaking the entire year. Keith Langlois has done great work ripping the schedule to shreds like a graduate student deconstructing some Derrida. I suggest you all pore over it for data and measured analysis. Unfortunately, I’ve had too many coffees today, so I’m going to go with my emotional reactions and make a list of the games I am most looking forward to.
So without further ado and in no sentimental or cosmic order:
1) vs Washington 10/30
Okay, this one is easy. First game of the season. First game with the new team. First time to show the naysayers what has some people perhaps ridiculously enthusiastic about Detroit’s chances this year. It also happens to be a perfect match-up. Not personnel-wise, but rather a custom made and narratively digestible Potential Teams on the Rise battle. The Wizards played some inspired ball in the second half of last season, and John Wall Esq. is going to have to play out of his mind (which is certainly possible for him) to warrant the trust the Wizards put in him with that pretty swell max contract he just signed. Both of these teams are fringe playoff teams until further notice, and I expect a sloppy first half before a Red Wedding type slaughter by the 4th quarter as both teams seek to make a statement against a talented but vulnerable opponent.
2) @ Golden State 11/12
The Pistons embark on a West Coast road-trip that will pit them against some pretty dangerous teams (and also the Lakers haha!) and coming away from that trip with a winning road-trip record would be an enormous burst of confidence for this young team. Easier said that done, but you simply aren’t a good team until you can win on the road, and this trip out west is a blessing in disguise. Portland, Sacramento, Golden State, Los Angeles Lakers. The Pistons could go 2-2 and even 3-1 (let’s just forget the Pistons anemic record against the West last year-it’s a new day!) if this squad is coming together the ways we want it to. One game that might get away is Golden State. It is the second night of a back to back and the crowd at Oracle has a way of crushing otherwise stout spirits. The Warriors are a sharp-shooting team that does its best work when they play small with Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green at the 4 and Andrew Bogut (when living) as the huge Australian in the middle. The ultra big Detroit Pistons should be able to take advantage of line-ups like that on at least one end of the floor, as theres no way that nerd Barnes or scrappy but undersized Green can hope to stop the army of big fearsome big men the Pistons have acquired. Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings is likewise worth all the hype. These two guys are both underrated point-guards, willing passers, and utterly dangerous when in the zone. Lots to love here.
3) @ Atlanta 11/20
Let’s mark this at the Josh Smith Revenge Game. I anticipate the Hawks will get up for this one and the fans will lustily boo their former anti-hero. If nothing else this game will be an early season test for the young Pistons to knock out a team that is seen as a primary competitor for the lower rung of playoff seedings. An added subplot is that aborted Jeff Teague-Brandon Jenninngs sign and trade that in reality is something I’m sure everyone has forgotten about by now. This is the kind of team that Detroit needs to learn to beat to pave a path to the post-season. The good teams, the solid teams, the .500 teams, the teams that are good enough to beat you but not good enough to stop you. With Jennings, Smith, Billups, and Monroe, the Pistons arguably have the more talented roster and games like this will test the truth of that.
4) vs. Miami 12/8
When you’ve made a drastic roster overhaul you have to test your mettle against the very best to see clearly what the next step is. Currently the best are these guys from South Beach. I feel we can write off the game in Miami as a glorified scrimmage but it is the Heat’s trip to Auburn Hills that I’m excited for. A young talented team emboldened by a home crowd (hopefully Miami doesn’t get a home crowd as well) can absolutely pull off the occasional upset. Assuming Greg Oden doesn’t miraculously become the Greg Oden the Trailblazers thought they were drafting then Miami’s principle weakness-a thin supply of big men-becomes something a team like Detroit is (along with teams like Memphis) can exploit. Smith and Monroe and Drummond should be able to wreak havoc on the Heat. LeBron could probably play all three front court positions at the same time and smother them with sorcery but I think there’s some rule about that.
5) vs. Houston 12/21
Alright, let’s get this over with! Dwight Howard, the NBA’s current champion of dramatic waffling and prima donna-ism is coming to town with the newly anointed “contenders” the Houston Rockets. By this point in the season I guess we’ll all know what Houston is all about and whether they are limping along as a slight upgrade of last year’s team or straight up demolishing the competition the way Orlando when they hit their zenith a few years back. The Rockets were so good at raining down hellfire threes and penetration last year that I fear Dwight is going to ruin their algorithmic domination with insistence that he’s not a pick and roll player and that he just wants the ball dumped to him in the low post. Alas, that is not our problem! I think this game is going to be Andre Drummond’s debut to high society. I predict he will block three of Dwight Howard’s shots in a row and utterly frustrate him with suffocating man to man defense. He will also best him at jump balls, free throws made, and will complain to the referees 100% less than Big Baby Howard. Dwight will try to fart on Drummond as a means of vengeance, and will receive a $50,000 fine.
6) vs. Los Angeles Clippers 1/20
Lob City vs. Lob City East. The Clippers are an elite team in theory, but have always seemed vulnerable due to the inconsistency of Blake Griffin and the now painfully apparent mediocrity of DeAndre Jordan. Brandon Jennings is the kind of quick squirrel-y guard that even the redoubt Chris Paul can have trouble chasing around. Griffin and Monroe are a wash, scorers that can’t really stop anymore. Drummond and Jordan are likewise basically the same player, though the dream of Jordan’s upside is mercifully dead now. My bold prediction: the Pistons are a game under .500, have lost a few in a row and have their backs against the proverbial wall. Josh Smith is ejected in the third quarter, Chauncey twists his ankle, and Mo Cheeks is glaring at Doc Rivers really intensely. Down ten going into the final frame, the Pistons mount a frantic comeback capped by a game winning lob from Jennings to Drummond. After the refs review to make sure the shot came before the end of regulation (it does) J.J. Reddick slips on an errant banana peel and is carried out on a stretcher.
7. @ Charlotte 2/14
Alright, you may have noticed by now: I don’t give a shit about the Lakers or the Celtics and the Nets bore me. I like watching the fascinating teams a lot more than the storied franchises and the Bobcats are certainly as far from a storied franchise as possible. Every year a new kind of train wreck but always with some intriguing pieces that almost fit together. The big acquisition this year was none other than Al Jefferson, a big dude who has one of the best low post games remaining in the NBA, and a veritable actual proven fringe All-Star. Sadly for the once and future Hornets, Jefferson is not what we’d really call a proven winner, and seems destined to be an excellent complimentary piece, not the big man on campus. What I want to see from Detroit: a start to finish blow out of Biblical proportions. I want to see them pounce on an inferior team like Assyrian shock troops circa 1200 BC. I want to see the killer instinct, I want to see them never relinquish a lead, I want to see the team come together like the weird clunky hydra Joe Dumars imagined.
8) @ Indiana 4/2
This is kind of the inverse of the Charlotte game above. The Pistons play thirteen of their last twenty games on the road and more than anything, the “road” often is the deciding factor for teams on the fringe of a playoff berth. Though many of their final batch of road games are against teams that will likely be sub .500 teams, there are a few killers sprinkled throughout, not the least of which are the reigning runners up of the Eastern Conference, the formidable Indiana Pacers. By this point I am going to go out on a limb and declare Detroit has snagged a playoff berth, but is still fighting desperately for a higher seed to avoid their second sweep at the hands of LeBron James. Indiana is not a team whose field house you go into with the hopes of blowing out. To beat a team like Indiana you have to force them to score, because they are often pretty terrible at that. A late season win (or even near win!) on the road that has actual playoff ramifications against a team of Indiana’s caliber would be huge for this new gang. Also it always feels good when Detroit beats Indiana. Sorry guys, I’ll never be able to bury the fact that Reggie Miller is the worst human.
9) @ Oklahoma City 4/16
Hey, cool, we get to close out the season against perennial push-overs the OKC Thunder! This should be a romp. Kevin Durant was the biggest draft bust in the last ten years and Russell Westrbook is just Monta Ellis if Monta looked slightly more like a turtle. At least they traded that cancer James Harden and still have the untouchable force in the middle Kendrick “GOAT” Perkins. I predict OKC will win maybe 5 games all year, and that Detroit will just roll right over them, destroy them in every conceivable way. I predict a score of Detroit 147 and OKC 34. This will be like when the United States Olympic team plays Somalia (not to pick on Somalia, they’d definitely beat us at other things!). Andre Drummond off the dribble threes in transition. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three-sixty dunks. Josh Smith yoga workshops at halftime. Mo Cheeks will be notified up his upcoming coach of the year award. Charlie Villanueva will finally feel true love.
Okay, I actually predict the Pistons will win this one, though Durant and Westbrook will be playing limited minutes (if playing at all) and though it’ll be a shaky season with ups and downs and plenty of sideways-ing, the Detroit Pistons will emerge as the 7th seed. The growing pains of the new roster, the maddening agony of a bad team struggling to become good, the blowouts and the one point losses…it will all be worth it.
This is going to be a damned exciting year.