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Game 21 Preview: Detroit Pistons vs. Houston Rockets

Anyone who really knows me knows that I love Entourage. Yeah, it's not as good as it once was, but it's still damn entertaining television. Four buddies living the high life? Hot chicks? No repercussions? Sign me up.

As much as I love the guys on the show, it really belongs to Jeremy Piven, who plays Ari Gold-a big time Hollywood agent. He's outspoken, crass, a bigot, racist, sexist, and a lot of other "ist"s. But at the end of the day, he's hilarious. Now, what the heck does Jeremy Piven have to do with the 7-13 Houston Rocket? Great question. Glad you asked.

In 2007, TNT used Piven for their playoff promotional video (Here's the video). Piven ran through a bunch of teams and gave some inspirational or motivational advice to them. It was clever and corny at the same time. But there's one team Piven talked about that I was reminded of the other night: the Dallas Mavericks.

Yes, I've compared the Rockets to the Dallas Cowboys (looking like Nostradamus, too, I might add), but I'm not really comparing the Rockets and Mavs here. They're pretty different.

The Rockets are dealing with some tough stuff right now. Losing ain't fun. The Mavs had learned that too. Just the season before, they had made the Finals and taken a 2 and three quarters game lead to zero, only to have it taken away from them by the zebras. We all remember. So what did Piven have to say to the Mavs?

"How tough it must be to get to the Finals and to see it all slip away? Unfortunately for Dallas, that fate is theirs. How to make all the nightmares go away? It's simple: give them to someone else."

I hinted at it earlier this season when I said that the Rockets needed a signature moment. They've got a signature win now over the Lakers, but not one moment. The Rockets need an identity. Against the Bulls, not only did Derrick Rose give the Bulls the signature moment I wanted for us, but he happened to do it against our beloved Rockets. How is that fair? Now, the Rockets need to take that bitter taste in their mouths from Saturday night and give it to someone else, like Tracy McGrady and the Detroit Pistons.

Sometimes, it's tough to write the previews. Especially after such a heartbreaking loss, all I want to say is "Sure the Rockets have every advantage, but they'll probably lose." It's even harder to write recaps. How can you possibly write anything coherently about a loss when all you want to do is yell is "MAKE A FREE THROW DAMMIT!!!" or "WHHHHHYYYYYYYYY???"

Piven did have more to say:

"Don't tell me why you didn't win. I already know. The other team wanted it more. Period. Now, if you can live with that, that's cool. Or you can get nasty, get grimy, and get dirty."

You listening, Rockets? Let's go.

Matchups (with a little bench analysis today):

PG: Kyle Lowry vs. Rodney Stuckey:

I really like Detroit's two-headed monster at point guard. Both guys are quick and athletic and have decent court vision. Not as good as Lowry and Smith, but they're combining for an average 23/8/5/2. By comparison, Lowry and Ish are combining for 14/10/6/2. Comparable, I guess.

Maybe that's one of the reason Adelman is moving Courtney Lee to the backup point guard spot. Stuckey is a above-average sized point guard (6-5/205), so Adelman will use Lee in the same manner he used Lee to try to curb Monta Ellis and Derrick Rose's speed and size advantages.

I like the experiment and think it will work, but not immediately.

Advantage: Even

SG: Kevin Martin vs. Richard Hamilton

A few years ago, this would have been a battle of efficiency. Not so much anymore. The Pistons miss Chauncey Billups, and no one wants to send that "Come Back Soon" card as much as Rip Hamilton. Rip was injured for a chunk of last season, and his shooting still hasn't recovered. Two years ago, he was shooting 18 points per game on 45% shooting. Now, it's 13 points on 41% shooting.

Jermaine Taylor will be getting minutes behind K-Mart tonight. Like Gordon, he can be explosive. However, Gordon is the superior shooter, and that has been one of the major reasons behind keeping JT on the bench. I know my boy Batman713 is thrilled to see his guy get his due tonight. It smacks of showcasing to me, but whatever. Maybe JT starts going nuts. Who knows?

Advantage: Rockets

SF: Shane Battier vs. Tayshaun Prince

Shane may sit tonight. He was sent home early from practice yesterday due to stomach flu. I have a hunch that Battier will fight through it. He's this team's leader. He knows it, too. Nevertheless, Chase could get serious minutes.

In his last two games, Prince has averaged 25 points. He's become more of a scorer since his days when he was only known as a wing-stopper. But you don't care about Prince, do you?

It's the Return of the Mack! He's back and better than ever same as ever worse as a Piston. He's playing 16 minutes off the bench per game and averaging 4/2/2 on 45% shooting. It's gotten sad.

I asked Mike Payne from Detroit Bad Boys for his opinion of T-Mac so far this season. Here's what he sent me:

Very few Pistons fans expected to see the Tracy McGrady of old when Detroit signed him this summer.  That T-Mac is long gone, but the one that remains has been surprisingly valuable to the Pistons.  Instead of the explosiveness, the grace, the downright dominance McGrady showed earlier in his career, he's now getting by with basketball IQ, with defense, with use of his body's size, not as much as its athleticism.  Sure, there have been a few exciting plays on offense, but it's the things that don't show up in the box scores that make Tracy special this season.

Here's an interesting example.  According to the Synergy Sports play-by-play video scouting service, Tracy McGrady is a top 30 defender in the league this season-- regardless of position.  They've recorded 88 defensive plays where McGrady is the active defender, and he has held his opponent to a 31.8% scoring rate and a 12.5% turnover rate.  This is weighed primarily by his performance in spot-up defense and in isolation, where Tracy is holding his man under 30% from the field.  This is especially remarkable since Tracy hasn't ever really been known as an elite defender, but the numbers are suggestive of that so far this season.

The Pistons are getting about as much out of McGrady as I thought we would-- about 12 to 16 minutes per game of veteran leadership and decent on court production.  For me, watching Tracy McGrady has a sliver of familiarity in the way we watched Ben Wallace last year.  With much of the athleticism and youth gone, the player that remained was still doing impressive things by using a sound basketball IQ instead of out-of-the-gym hops.

Thanks again to Mike for the insight. Here's his preview for today's game.

Advantage: Even if Shane plays, Pistons if he can't go

PF: Luis Scola vs. Jason Maxiell:

Maxiell may be the starter, but Charlie Villanueva is the guy who gets more burn at the other forward spot. He may be "cancerous to his team and the league," but I've always like Villanueva. He averages 13/5 and can spread the court on offense. Not bad for a backup forward. Wait, he's making $7 million this season? Yikes.

I'm so grateful for Luis Scola. As I have previously stated, the Rockets have 99 problems but the Argentine ain't one. He finally got back on track against the Bulls.

Advantage: Rockets

C: Chuck Hayes vs. Ben Wallace:

Hey! Another undersized center! Oh, he's still bigger than Chuck. Crap.

Don't blame Brad Miller for the missed three pointers in the Chicago game. Blame him for the missed free throw. Just know that the Rockets had no business getting back in that game, and that Brad is one of the reasons we came back and should have won. Why couldn't we have won? "WHHHHHHHYYYYYYYY???" Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage, apparently.

The Pistons are having problems with their big man rotation. Sound familiar?

Advantage: Rockets because of Brad



Pistons: Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, T-Mac, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye

Rockets: Ishmael Smith, Courtney Lee, Brad Miller, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Chase Budinger, and featuring special guest Jermaine Taylor!

Advantage: Even. That's a pretty good bench over there for Detroit


Pistons: Jonas Jerebko out

Rockets: Brooks out, Yao out, Battier questionable (stomach virus)

Prediction: One of T-Mac's two most recent teams will tonight. I cannot commit beyond that.

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