Foxtel achieved one of its rare NBA scheduling miracles by letting us watch the Pistons v Lakers game today. Couldn’t think of a better game to watch right now than the undefeated Lakers vs the Iverson-lead Pistons, and as a Pistons fan you can imagine I was pretty happy with the result. Here is my take on the game.

  • Pistons flew out of the gates grabbing a 12-2 lead on a perfect 6/6 shooting, and one thing immediately hit me – with Iverson, these Pistons have really picked up their pace. The Lakers are a high-scoring high-tempo team themselves, but the Pistons were making them look slow.
  • Kobe passed Larry Bird on the all-time scorers list early in the first quarter, and later in the game would also pass Gary Payton. Assuming he averages about 24ppg here on in, he’ll pass Clyde Drexler, Elgin Baylor and Robert Parish by the end of the season, putting him 17th on the all-time list.
  • Gasol threw an alley-oop pass to Kobe in the first quarter that Kobe never should have caught – my jaw dropped on that catch and finish.
  • With 9:00 remaining in the second quarter Sheed hit his third three and had already attempted five. Sheed was certainly making Bynum pay for leaving him out on the perimeter, which is the only way the Pistons get the upper-hand on that match up.
  • Halfway through the second quarter I again noticed something distinctly different about this Pistons team – their pace. Coach Curry went with a lineup of Maxiell, Prince, Rip, Afflalo and Stuckey. That is insane if you think about it – Prince is the tallest guy in that line-up. It is just one of the many peculiar line-ups coach Curry has employed this season, and to his credit most of the time it has paid off. In one of last week’s games at one stage the Pistons were running with Maxiell, Hermann, Afflalo, Stuckey and Will Bynum – I mean, what the hell is that? Is that even a basketball team?
  • Despite the positive impacts of Iverson, I did notice one downer – Rip Hamilton looks completely lost out there. He has struggled since AI came on-board and watching today I could really sense that Rip was out of his element. Here is a guy that for the last six years has had his hands on the ball in at least every second offensive possession the Pistons have had. Today there was a 10 minute patch where nobody wanted to pass him the ball, and unfortunately for Rip, it was a successful 10 minutes for the Pistons. Like I said last week, I don’t know if there’s been a scoring guard in the history of the league more dependent on his point guard, and now that point guard is gone. Rip’s chemistry with Allen Iverson might be the single most important factor that Detroit need to remedy if they want to win a championship.
  • Trevor Ariza continues to impress me, and is an incredibly underrated bench performer for that team. Can you imagine the kind of impact he could have had against the Celtics last Finals? He’s a disruptor, he gets his hands in the passing lanes and he’s athletic – someone the Lakers could definitely have used to drape around Paul Pierce when he was in a groove. You contrast that to the guy who’s minutes he’s probably stolen – Luke Walton – and you can appreciate why this Lakers team is a lot better this year. Not to rag on Luke Walton, but… well, he’s just not very good.
  • Tayshaun Prince is a different player from the guy I’ve been watching the last five years. Yes, I did say he should be traded in an emotionally-charged vent following the Pistons last playoff exit. But my main gripe was that he never seems to assert himself, and that is exactly what he’s been doing this season. He’s taken 15 shots or more on 4 occasions already this season, putting him on track for about 36 of those games. Last season he did that on only 17 occasions – it’s a big difference. Billups departure has meant Tayshaun handles the ball a lot more, and that makes him a lot more dangerous. This could finally be the season where I turn to all my friends and say “See? I told you Tayshaun Prince was that good”. Another fan’s take of Prince’s underratedness.
  • Having said the above, early in the third quarter Kobe almost broke Prince’s ankles and threw down a nasty left hand dunk.
  • As much as I’ve tried to ignore Sheed this season (I mainly blame him for our exit at the hands of the Celtics last playoffs), watching today I realise one thing – he’s still damn good. Watching Sheed play defense is a true joy for me. I think there’s few big men in the league who defend as smartly as Sheed. What I also enjoyed seeing was him taking guys like Kwame Brown under his wing – I’ve heard many players and coaches over the years say that Sheed would make a good coach (as ridiculous as it sounds) and today we saw glimpses of him drawing on a clipboard with Kwame and Walter Hermann looking on. I think having the younger guys is good for Sheed, because it gives him something else to concentrate on other than being crazy.
  • Worth noting that Kobe had a really bad shooting night – one of the worst I’ve seen from him. It’s a strange fact that Kobe simply does not play well against the Pistons. Since the 2004-2005 season Kobe has only had three games scoring 25+ points against the Pistons, which is remarkable when you consider Kobe has essentially averaged 30ppg over the last four seasons.
  • KWAME BROWN! While the guy looks absolutely clueless most of the time and inspires no confidence in me whatsoever, I have to admit that I was somewhat impressed by him today. Phil Jackson always used to praise Kwame’s defense, and today I understand why. He did a great job on Gasol and took a charge late in the third quarter that built Detroit’s momentum going into the final break. He even banked a free-throw which is pretty ridiculous when you think about it.
  • Kobe split a couple of defenders late in the fourth and threw down a nasty dunk that got me out of my seat. It was a meaningless play because the result was decided, but it did remind me that Kobe is one of the very few players in the league who can still do that. His rejection on Rip Hamilton was also nasty, providing yet another moment where today Rip looked like the playground loser that no one wanted on their team.
  • My last thought on this game – and yes I realised I have given a decidedly Pistons-bias view. The Detroit Pistons are now a fun team to watch. I used to say this over the past few years since Flip Saunders came along, but I couldn’t really convince any one because lets face it, Rip Hamilton hitting 12 foot runners is not that exciting. But now I think it’s there for all to see. With Iverson on board and a coach with a clear commitment to giving the young guns a run, the Pistons are one of the more offensively talented and versatile teams in the league. Once the Iverson transition is fully complete this Pistons team is going to run a lot of teams off the court, perhaps all the way through May and June. Here’s hoping.

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Bogut Watch: Bogut had been stinking it up so badly recently that Coach Skiles held a one-on-one meeting with him prior to Thursday’s big game against the Spurs. Imagine that, just you and Scott Skiles in a room hanging out. “He tells you how he sees it, and the meeting’s over” Bogut said. “You don’t sit in there for an hour and talk about how the weather is.” Coach Skiles’ message was to be aggressive, and it must have rubbed off on the big man because Bogey came out and played his best game of the season, against Tim Duncan no less. 10 points, 17 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals including a massive put back jam with 5 minutes to play in a very tight game. He even got some praise from Duncan: “I thought Milwaukee did a really good job defensively on me. Physically, Andrew, I thought he was great tonight. I didn’t get a lot of looks, and when I did I was just missing my shot.”

Pretty amazing to think the Bucks can beat anyone without Michael Redd, but they did, and they followed it up with another nice win today against the Grizzlies. What has really impressed me about the Bucks is the play of Ramon Sessions – also known as “Who!?” This guy finished last season really strong with a couple of big games – you might remember that 24 assist game or this buzzer-beater against the Wiz. Thankfully for the Bucks he has continued that momentum and now he is giving them 15 ppg off the bench – good enough to be their 3rd leading scorer. Today against the Grizz his three-pointer with 9 seconds left tied the game, and in OT he hit the game-clinching FTs. It would not surprise me if coach Skiles decides to try him in the starting lineup at one stage, which could serve to get rid of Ridnour once and for all.

Bogut had another big game today with 12 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks including the first four points of the overtime period. With a couple of nice wins the Bucks will be really tested over their next three games facing the Celtics at home, then away to Denver and Utah. I think they will lose them all.

Speaking about Denver, are they the hottest team in the league right now? Going into the Garden and beating the Celtics is the hardest thing to do in today’s league, especially when the game is tied with three minutes to go – those Celtics very rarely lose tight games at home. But thanks to Chauncey Billups’ steadying hand the Nuggets got up, deservedly so, as they had been leading most of the game and were up by 15 at one stage. I suspected that Chauncey would have a good influence on guys like Kenyon Martin, and though its still early days, it’s pretty encouraging for the Nuggets to hear Billups say that K-Mart “played KG just about as good as I’ve seen him be played.”

On another note, I caught the last three minutes of the Nuggets game on ESPN today and for the first time saw Chauncey Billups in a Denver jersey. I can’t really explain how that felt, but it certainly sent shivers down my spine and I kind of froze. It looked unnatural. Six years of seeing one of your idols in blue, white and red will do that to you.

STAT CHAT
Against the OKC on Thursday Dwight Howard went for a monstrous 30 points, 19 rebound, 10 block performance. It was just the second 30-19-10 in the last 20 years, the other being Hakeem Olajuwon’s 32-25-10 back in 1989. It was Dwight Howard’s first career triple-double, and he joins a pretty exclusive list of players to get the TD with blocks. Here is that list since the 1986-87 season:
Dikembe Mutombo (10 times)
Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson (9)
Shawn Bradley (8)
Marcus Camby (3)
Ben Wallace (2)
Benoit Benjamin, Manute Bol, Mark Eaton, Andrei Kirilenko, Larry Nance, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal (1)


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