The Detroit Pistons snapped an ugly five-game losing streak (their longest skid in five years) by beating Memphis on Monday, and Wednesday they’ll look to start a winning streak when a struggling Raptor squad heads into Motown. Fortunately, beating Toronto at the Palace has never been a difficult chore for Detroit; it’s won 10 straight such battles (a streak that dates back to April 2003 and includes an average margin of victory of 11 freaking points!).
Detroit was rolling along at 21-11 early this month, but a 2-6 skid since then has dropped them well off the pace in the Central Division behind Cleveland, and down to fifth overall in the East, with Miami inching closer.
Wednesday is the start of a three-game homestand, but after Toronto, things get tough, with visits by Dallas and Houston.
Detroit may be sporting a new look tonight; the Pistons have been going with a three-guard starting lineup featuring Allen Iverson, Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton, but there’s been plenty of talk that coach Michael Curry plans to send AI or Rip to the bench and move Amir Johnson into the starting five. From all indications, it will be Hamilton who will be demoted.
A few weeks after the deal that sent Chauncey Billups to Denver for Iverson, we noted that the Pistons weren’t exactly kicking ass with AI in their lineup. While Iverson is coming off a big game Monday (27 points, five boards, two steals), this kind of effort has been too rare, and to say he’s been inconsistent almost seems like a compliment. He’s recorded seven steals in the past three games, but before that had really struggled to offer value in a category he’s traditionally been among the league leaders in. In fact, since arriving in Detroit, Iverson has simply not shot the ball well. Sure, the 16-for-28 showing over the past two games has been nice, but like I said, he’s been inconsistent as hell. While I doubt strongly that Iverson is headed to the bench, what would happen to his level of consistency if that did happen? From an overall value perspective, it’s hard to believe it can get any worse for Iverson.
Hamilton, meanwhile, continues his decline over the past couple of seasons. He lasted until the end of the 12th round in my media league draft this fall, but the way things are going now, he may find himself at the very end of the draft next season. Rip has actually been doing pretty well in past few games, notwithstanding some foul trouble Monday that limited his court time. But he missed several games last month and earlier this in January with a groin injury and looked quite rusty upon his return. But beyond the injuries (or perhaps as a result of them), a disconcerting trend has developed in Hamilton’s game. His FT attempts per game has been in free fall for the past couple of months; in fact, in five games this month, he’s only gotten to the charity stripe four times. For a scorer who shoots an extremely high percentage from the line, that’s really going to cut into his point total. The bottom line here is that since arriving in Detroit, Hamilton has never been less valuable. And a move to the bench – which seems all but assured starting against Toronto Wednesday – is not going to help matters.
So despite his less-than-inspiring season, AI ranks second among all Eastern Conference guards in All-Star voting behind only Dwyane Wade. Damn, even Vince Carter – who’s been slipping himself the past couple of seasons – deserves to be ahead of Iverson in voting.
Tayshaun Prince has not been impervious to the inconsistency. He’s sunk just 7-of-25 in the past two games and on Monday he turned in a real stinker, managing just four points and three boards with no assists, blocks or treys. Prince started the month with some fine shooting nights, so we’ll cut him some slack for now. He’s actually enjoying his finest season overall and he remains among the most durable players in the game, but whatever happened to Prince’s perimeter game? He used to be good for one trey per game; two years later, he’s getting just half that many. By the way, Prince ranks eighth among forwards in the East. No way should he be behind rookie Michael Beasley at seventh, and you could make an argument given the time that Josh Smith lost to injury that Prince could also slide ahead of J Smoov at sixth in the voting.
When we ranked Rasheed Wallace as the 12th best centre heading into the season, we expected his PT to continue to decline in a deeper Detroit frontcourt. Well, that hasn’t happened, yet Wallace’s overvalue has slipped anyways, and he’s now barely a top 20 centre. While Sheed enjoyed a decent game on Monday (13 points, eight boards, three steals, two assists), his outside shooting has gotten worse and worse as the season has progressed. He’s sunk just 7-of-27 from beyond the arc over the past four games, dropping his 3-point percentage down to 26.5 for January. As I mentioned, Wallace is getting more action this season, and he’s done a fantastic job from the line, but owners are aghast at the fact his FG percentage, steals, blocks, assists and scoring have all dropped. Sheed currently ranks third in voting among Eastern Conference centres, and he’s definitely outplayed No. 2 Samuel Dalembert, but I’d buy it if Jermaine O’Neal (currently fourth in voting), despite his injuries, was ahead of Wallace.
A real problem for Detroit lately has been finding offense late in games. During the five-game losing skid, the Pistons failed to score even 20 points in the fourth quarter once, averaging just 15.2 points in the final stanza over that stretch. Hell, even when they snapped the losing streak on Monday, they only managed 20 points in the fourth. Fortunately, they limited Memphis to a laughable 10 points to ice the W. Still, the Pistons are going to need to find a way to put late points on the board if they hope to improve their playoff positioning.