Detroit Pistons (27-26) vs
Cleveland Cavaliers (42-11)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Sunday, February 22, 2009
8:00 PM EST
Today will be an interesting day in the Eastern Conference, with each of the top 3 teams playing consecutive games on national TV. The Cavaliers hold the lead in the Eastern Conference in the loss column, but the Celtics have won 2 more games than the Cavs and hold a 1/2 game lead overall, with the Magic sitting just 3 games back of them. So with the Celtics playing the Suns, the Magic playing the Heat, and the Cavs playing the Pistons, today could change around the shape of the East a little bit. The Cavs come into this game on a 3 game winning streak and have won 7 of their last 9, while the Pistons are in the midst of a 5 game losing streak and have lost 7 of 9 overall. We’ll see if these two teams can keep those streaks going tonight.
Delonte West is BACK!!!!! Finally, for the first time since December 30, 2008, the Cavaliers will have their true starting lineup of Mo, Delonte, LBJ, Ben, and Z intact. Make no mistake about it, this is huge for the Cavaliers. Yes, the Cavaliers went 12-4 in the 16 games Delonte missed (a .750 win pct), but with Delonte the Cavaliers are 30-6 (a .833 win pct). Overall, this starting lineup is 24-4 on the season (a .857 win pct). So yeah, Delonte coming back is an enormous blessing for the Cavaliers, who did a commendable job winning games despite playing pretty mediocre basketball and dealing with a magnitude of injuries while he was out. Especially when you factor in the fact that the Celtics look to be without Kevin Garnett for 2-3 weeks, now the Cavaliers are in prime position to jump on this opportunity to snag the top seed in the East.
It will be interesting to see how effective Delonte is and how his conditioning is able to hold up, but just having him not only in uniform, but in the starting lineup as well will be a huge inspirational lift to this team. Having Delonte’s presence on the defensive side of the ball will be huge, as the Cavaliers are set to face a guy in Allen Iverson who is still one of the quickest and toughest players to guard in the NBA. As much effort as the Cavs would have received from Tarence Kinsey in that role, he’s not half the defender Delonte is. It will be a quick test of West’s conditioning, though, and Kinsey will still probably see some minutes defending Iverson in this game.
On offense, the Cavaliers have had 15+ turnovers in 4 straight games, a number that unquestionably needs to come to an end. The movement and energy has been higher since the All-Star break, but they have to start taking better care of the basketball and start limiting the number of needless turnovers. With West back in the lineup, the Cavaliers will once more have 4 true threats on offense in the starting lineup. It may take a game or two for the full chemistry to return, but I expect the offense to start showing signs of getting back to what it was earlier in the season right away tonight.
As for the Pistons, it’s hard to know what to think of this team. Once a team renowned for tough, physical, unrelenting, and intimidating defense, solid rebounding, and timely efficiency on offense has become a mere shell of what it once was. The Pistons are a team without an identity right now. They’re not a great offensive team, they’re not a great defensive team, and they’re pretty much just a team that exists to be an early playoff exit.
Or so it would seem on paper. But this Pistons team is still a team just loaded with tough, veteran players who have seen just about all there is to see in the NBA. It would seem unlikely that this team would quit and give up on the season, and I expect them to bring their best game tonight. For whatever reason, the Detroit Pistons’ jerseys just seem to bring out the worst of the Cavaliers. Whenever these two teams meet, LeBron seems to slow the game down to unbearably slow levels and he is content to shoot a lot of outside shots and not look to get his teammates all that involved. Hopefully with Delonte back and with Mo Williams playing great basketball lately, LeBron will look to change that up a bit in tonight’s game. This looks like another one of those games that the Cavaliers should be able to handle without too much trouble on paper, but if the Cavs fall into any bad habits, the Pistons are a team that will jump on any lifeline you give them. It will be imperative that the Cavaliers not overlook this game.