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Preview Double Feature: New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons

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In the Lakers' last two games (also a back-to-back set), L.A. went up against one of the worst teams in the league in Chicago, before playing a game against a team struggling to stay near .500 in the Bucks.  Now, in another back-to-back set, the Lakers play the worst team in the association (the Nets) followed by a team struggling to stay close to .500 in the Pistons.  I'd make a comment about road games not being so hard after all, but after the Lakers' last one, that would probably be unwise (and untrue).

The Lakers come into tonight's matchup against the Nets with the best record in the league, thanks to an extremely strange night in the NBA which saw Boston lose to Philadelphia in Boston, and also included losses by Dallas and Denver.  Cleveland was also nice enough to struggle against the Bucks at home before pulling out a victory, putting the Lakers' extremely close win against that same team in slightly higher regard.  Also, you can add Rasheed Wallace to the list of people who "exploded" before Ron Artest has.  Considerably less surprising than Ariza throwing an elbow, Rasheed picked up two quick T's in the 2nd quarter of that game and was thrown out.  I'm not sure how much can be read into the one incident, but it seems clear that Rasheed is the same guy he's always been, whereas Artest has shown so far to be the complete opposite of a distraction so far ... on the court at least.  After the jump, we'll take a look at all teams coming in, and matchups

The Lakers come in with "only" a two game win streak, but their play of late has been pretty good.  4-1 in the last 5 games, but even that is misleading, because L.A. is is also 14-1 in the last 15 games.  All that Laker fans have to complain about is Andrew Bynum's poor rebounding, but even that has mitigating circumstances which cause the rebounding to be something we might not even consider negative.  Oh, and he's just leaving the boards to be collected by Pau Gasol, who is averaging 19.5 over the last 4 games, and would be tied for the league lead in rebounding if he had played enough games to qualify for it.  Go ahead, call him Pau Ga-soft, I dare you.  Oh, and he just got an extension, ensuring he will be in Purple and Gold for a long time to come.

The Nets continue to be as woeful as when we last saw them.  They ended up breaking the record for most losses to start the season, after the Lakers were kind enough to help them tie the previous mark of 0-18.  They fired their coach, won 2-3 with wins against Chicago and Charlotte, and then embarked on another 6 game losing streak, during which the closest they've come to winning was a 10 point loss to Cleveland.  This is a truly terrible team, currently on pace to shatter the record for worst NBA season.  The current record, 9-73, is held by the 72-73 Philadelphia 76ers.  At their current pace, the Nets will have either 6 or 7 wins by season's end. 

The Pistons followed up a nice little 5 game win streak (featuring a home win against the Denver Nuggets) with a three game losing streak we find them on now.  All road losses, but all by double digits against teams that are good, but certainly not a murderer's row.  They are still dealing with terrible luck on injuries, as Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordan, and Tayshaun Prince have been (and as far as I know, will be) unavailable.  They are starting Chucky Atkins, for goodness sake. 

Matchups

The Lakers are the best defensive team in the league.  The Nets are the worst offensive team in the league.  This is what you call a classic situation where absolutely nothing has to give.  Unless the Lakers come out with very little energy, look for New Jersey to find scoring a very difficult task.  It wouldn't surprise me if 90 points would be enough to win this game.  Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if 85 were enough.

The Nets don't do anything unusual, so a breakdown of match-ups isn't particularly necessary.  Aside from being an extremely good free throw shooting team, the Nets do the same thing as most NBA teams, just a lot, lot worse.  But, if worst case scenarios are to be addressed, they do a good job of forcing turnovers, a decent job of getting to the line, and a great job of making those free throws once they are there.  If the Lakers come out un-focused, give up a lot of turnovers, and take a bunch of fouls, it's possible for them to lose.  Philly showed that anybody in the league can win or lose on any given night.  But man, it's really hard to see a world where the Lakers could lose this game, and with any luck they'll just put the whooping stick to New Jersey early and allow the starters to rest up for the more difficult game the next night.

Detroit provides a much sterner test.  Their record isn't much, but they are 8-4 at home, and the previously mentioned win against Denver shows they are capable of bringing it against good teams.  The Pistons love, love, love, love, love to crash the offensive boards, ranked 2nd in the league at pulling them down.  Considering the Lakers' rather poor performance on the defensive glass, coupled with Bynum's inability to rebound as of late, and this is a recipe for a tough game.  That said, the Pistons are also one of the slowest teams in the league, which will help L.A. in the second night of a back-to-back.  Fatigue shouldn't be a factor because Detroit won't ever run and take advantage of any possible fatigue.

As far as I can tell, the Pistons like to bring their best players off the bench.  Will Bynum is Detroit's most potent scorer (with all the injuries they've had) and he's part of the 2nd unit.  So too is mutli-million dollar signing Charlie Villanueva.  Detroit is paying Villanueva far too much money to have him coming off the bench for Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko, but hey, I'm not the coach.  In any case, it would seem that the starters will need to do the work in this game, because asking the 2nd unit to make a difference, on the road, against a lineup containing the other team's best players, might be asking too much.  But, since the Lakers starters don't suck, asking them to blow the game open early isn't asking too much at all.

If the Lakers take the two games seriously enough, there's no reason to think they won't be able to pull it out in both games, and a 4-1 road trip would go a long way towards shutting people up about the Lakers easy early schedule.  It's more about who you play than where you play, people.  Also, one interesting thing to keep an eye on.  Tomorrow's game is a full two hours before tonight's game, which is rough on the Lakers.  But what could make matters worse is that New Jersey (and the entire Eastern Seaboard) is getting destroyed by a huge blizzard.  I haven't seen anything regarding whether the weather will be an issue or not, but if the Lakers have difficulty getting out of New Jersey and into Detroit, it could put them at a significant rest disadvantage.  We'll see how it plays out, but all the more reason to take care of business real early against the Nets.

Check out Motown String Music for Pistons info.  The Nets are so bad they've been removed from SB Nation's roster.

Lakers

Nets

Pistons

RECORD

20-4

2-25

11-15

OFFENSIVE RATING

108.1 (13th)

96.5 (30th)

106.2(18th)

DEFENSIVE RATING

99.5 (1st)

108.8 (22nd)

108.4 (20th)

PACE

94.7 (8th)

92.8 (14th)

87.9 (29th)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

13.0% (7th)

14.8 (28th)

13.6 (12th)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.209 (25th)

0.233 (17th)

0.238 (11th)

Free-Throw %

76.4 (14th)

78.2(4th)

73.1 (24th)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.0 (13th)

43.9(30th)

47.6 (25th)

True Shooting% (Off.)

54.0(16th)

49.1 (29th)

52.0 (25th)

Off Rebounding Rate

27.3% (11th)

25.6% (21st)

31.8% (2nd)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

14.3% (11th)

14.8% (8th)

13.9% (15th)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

.195 (2nd)

.242 (18th)

.277 (29th)

Effective FG% (Def.)

45.8 (1st)

52.0 (24th)

50.2 (21st)

True Shooting% (Def.)

50.0 (1st)

55.9 (26th)

55.2 (21st)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.2 (22nd)

71.2 (27th)

73.2 (12th)