I'm reluctant to feel any type of optimism about the Detroit Pistons this season, as I've been burned too many times before, but I am getting there.
The Pistons have been playing much better since the trade that jettisoned Isaiah Livers and Marvin Bagley III to the Wizards and brought in Mike Muscala and Danilo Gallinari.
These were fringe moves at best, but as I wrote earlier in the season, the Pistons don't have to trade everything for a big star, they just need competent role players.
Muscala and Gallinari fit the bill and have helped transform the Pistons' bench from a liability into a weapon. Marcus Sasser and Alec Burks combined for 43 points, continuing their hot shooting. The fact Burks was playing last night is an indication that he might not be traded before today's deadline and the way he's been shooting the last month plus, you can't blame the Pistons for wanting to keep him around.
But the night belonged to Jaden Ivey, who once again played his best basketball with Cade Cunningham on the bench. I'm not in the small camp that thinks the Pistons are better without Cade, but there is compelling evidence that Ivey is at his best when he is free to create with the ball in his hands as he did last night.
Jaden Ivey dominates the rematch between the Pistons and Kings
Last night was almost the reverse of the first meeting between these two teams this season, as the Kings won the first game behind their 2022 draft pick Keegan Murray, who dropped 32 as the Kings blew the Pistons out in the 4th quarter.
The roles were reversed last night, as it was Ivey who scored 37 points to spark a huge 4th quarter for the Pistons in which they scored 36 points and were able to pull away.
One of the big differences in the game, aside from Ivey, who was getting to the rim and hitting catch-and-shoot 3's the entire quarter, was free throws.
Both teams shot 22 times from the charity stripe, but the Kings only made 15 of theirs while the Pistons hit them all, going a perfect 22-of-22. Ivey, Burks and Jalen Duren all hit six apiece to lead the way.
A quick note: Duren has improved his free-throw shooting to 72.2 percent this season, up from 61 percent last year. This can be a huge weapon for him, as he draws a lot of contact under the rim. He had 20 points 15 rebounds and six assists last night while playing tough defense on Domantas Sabonis at times in a game where the refs weren't allowing much contact.
You have to be excited by what we're seeing from Ivey, Duren, Sasser and Thompson, who looked like building blocks with Cade Cunningham on the bench and set to return tonight.
I'm cautiously optimistic that this team is starting to figure it out. They are playing with some confidence on the offensive end, which should only improve after the trades they made last night (much more on that later today).
I can't let myself feel hope just yet, but Homer #1 is starting to see the light.