Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Myth of Stafford's Pro Bowl

Things are a bit quiet right now, what with Jennings' injury torpedoing the Pistons' hot streak, the Caris LeVert injury doing the same to Michigan's meager shot at a tourney run, and the Wings JUST getting back from the AS break (they won). What most people in the Detroit area were talking about, other than Deflate-gate (WHY???) was Stafford's performance in the Pro Bowl, to which I say WHY???


Don't get me wrong, 316 yards on 60% completion is impressive(ish), but it's the PRO BOWL. It's basically a 7-on-7 scrimmage. It's not even as competitive as pre-season football because there at least you have guys competing for jobs. In the Pro Bowl, everyone is trying to stay healthy. There was a total of 6 QB hits in the entire game and 2 sacks, and that's only because Von Miller & Elvis Dumervil didn't get the memo (5 hits & 2 sacks between them). Fortunately for Stafford, they were on his team.

Here were his pertinent stats for the game:
  • 15 for 25 passing, 60.0 COMP%... meh
  • 316 yards, 12.6 yards per attempt... Ok that's not bad, but it's the Pro Bowl
  • 2 TDs, 1 INT, 3 fumbles (1 lost)... That's a LOT of carelessness with the football. Not good
On the surface, Stafford had a pretty good day. That completion % is average to mediocre, but he got a lot of yards and yards per attempt. One FACT I've heard a lot of people bring up is that Stafford is only the 2nd QB to throw for over 300 yards in the Pro Bowl. This is one of those facts that is especially misleading. The Pro Bowl is an exhibition game where they try to spread the ball around among 3 different QBs and 4 different RBs per side. It's pretty rare that one QB will get to throw the ball enough to get to 300+ yards. Usually you see 10-15 attempts per QB, meaning a REALLY good day would get him 200 yards.

The lack of ball security could be due to unfamiliarity with the center or or with the RB on the hand off, but I didn't watch the game so I couldn't say for sure. 3 fumbles in a game is a lot, and then he did get picked as well at the goal line (by JJ Watt).

***

Pro Football Focus put out grades for players on every team in the NFL, rating them Elite, Good, Average, or Bad, and evaluated what they need to be considered a Super Bowl Contender. The Lions were ranked 6th, having 4 players rated as Elite (CJ, Suh, Glover Quin, Levy), 4 rated as Good (Ansah, Mathis, Ihedigbo, Slay), 21 rated Average, and 3 rated as Bad (Jeremy Ross, Pettigrew, Raiola). Per Pro Football Focus, that means the Lions are 5 Good to Elite players away from being considered a Super Bowl Contender.

First, Raiola is gone, so that's one Bad player out the door. Fairley, Warford, Stafford, and Ebron all have the potential to move from Average to Good or even Elite. Ansah could be Elite next year, but the Lions could lose out on Suh and/or Fairley, and Rashean Mathis is always a year away from losing it (he's 34).

Defensive tackle is going to be their biggest need this offseason, with Suh, Fairley, Mosley and Fluellen all hitting free agency. They'll try to get both Suh & Fairley back, but that'll be a tall order and they'll still need one more guy. Offensive line is another need, and they may go to the draft to resolve that. They might extend offers to Sims and Hilliard to stick around, but signing Suh is priority #1, so Mayhew could be looking to save money elsewhere. The CB position was where the Lions were thinnest in 2014. Mathis & Slay were relatively healthy, but Bentley and Lawson were next on the depth chart, both getting injured and neither projecting as a starter down the road. You need 3 decent-to-good CBs in this NFL, and Mathis (one of the Lions' 2 Good CBs) is very close to retirement.
 

The Lions were ranked pretty low (20th out of 32 teams) on ESPN's list of teams with good players 25 or under . Mayhew's drafts have been pretty bad, other than the 2013 draft. He needs to be better this year. Grantland published a piece earlier this week about how Bill Belichick crushes the draft process, and the common threads of this were a) letting other teams trade up and getting multiple draft picks in return, and b) not re-signing aging vets or doing much in free agency, getting compensational picks in return. Obviously this would take a while to bear fruit, but it's kept the Patriots in the mix for the last 15 years.

Mayhew has been the type of GM that Belichick has taken advantage of in the past, trading several picks to move up in the draft, usually picking the wrong guy anyway. In the 2010 draft he traded up for Jahvid Best (who didn't work out), didn't pick in the 2nd round, moved back in the 4th round, and didn't pick in the 5th or 6th rounds. In the 2011 draft, Mayhew traded back into the 2nd round to take Mikel Leshoure (who didn't work out), didn't pick in the 3rd or 4th rounds, dealt the earlier 2 of the 3 5th round picks he possessed, didn't pick in the 6th, and used only 2 of his 4 7th round picks. What really hurts about the 2011 draft is the picks Seattle got when Detroit traded up to take Leshoure were used to select Richard Sherman (Byron Maxwell was later picked up by Seattle as part of the Lawrence Jackson trade). Ye gods. The Vikings ended up with Chris Cook (meh) and Everson Griffen (ok, he's GOOD) in the deal that netted Jahvid Best (who's out of football).

Some of these picks were lost due to depth trades (like acquiring Chris Houston, Corey Williams, Sims, etc.) to make up for years of bad drafting under Millen, but if you're going to do that then you shouldn't give up MORE picks so you can trade up! Look at the 2 Super Bowl teams - New England gets SIGNIFICANT production from mid-to-late round draft picks (Brady, Gronk, Edelman), and so does Seattle (Wilson, Sherman, Maxwell, Chancellor, Mebane). This article is kinder to Mayhew than it should be, but it breaks down all his trades through 2013.

If the Lions are going to become more than just a once-in-a-while playoff team, they need to do a much better job of handling the draft process. Not just drafting the right players, but not trading away picks and correctly identifying needs. The 2014 was pretty brutal, so Mayhew needs to step up this year.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Back to the drawing board for the Pistons, Harbaugh goes recruitin'

I'm not calling R.I.P. on the Pistons' season just yet, but it's basically on life support right now. Brandon Jennings, probably the biggest contributor to the Pistons current hot streak (other than the absense of Josh Smith), went down for the season with a torn achilles tendon. Prognosis for Jennings - out 6-9 months as a best case scenario. Prognosis for the Pistons - short of a super lucky D League signing or a Godfather trade, this season is toast.

At this point Stan Van Gundy is looking for a band-aid to help the team limp into the playoffs. The top 5 teams in the East - Atlanta, Washington, Toronto, Chicago and Cleveland - may change seeding amongst themselves, but I don't see any of them dropping out, short of a devastating injury. Of the bottom 3, Miami is the one that may move up. Charlotte is in the 8th spot and 2 games ahead of Detroit. Miami is 7th and Milwaukee (the team that JUST beat the Pistons by 15, and it wasn't that close) is 6th. In other words, it doesn't look good.

First, what can the Pistons do NOW to improve their chances of making the playoffs? First, they need a PG. They can either swing a trade or else sign a guy out of the D League. The 2 rumors currently going around are 1) the Pistons are exploring a trade for Knicks backup PG Pablo Prigioni, and 2) they're looking at bringing up Lorenzo Brown from their D League affiliate team. The issues with option #1 are that the Knicks reportedly want a 2nd rounder for Prigioni, he's 37, and he's not that good. The problems with option #2 is Brown is a better shooter than a ball handler, with a .588 TS% but a 1.05 ast:tov ratio (ideally you want at least a 2, Jennings was at 3 exactly), and that's in the D League where the defense isn't as good. 


Another trade option would be to go after the Lakers' Jeremy Lin, who was a healthy scratch a couple of nights ago and hasn't yet found a spot in the Lakers' starting rotation. The issue with Lin is the price tag. He's well overpaid at $14.9M with an $8.4M cap hit. The only way to make the trade work is to include Monroe, which would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Pistons would have to hope Lin could get back to the playmaking level he was at with the Knicks & his first year in Houston. The other issue is that he represents a desirable expiring contract, so the Lakers would want to work out some kind of sign & extend deal with Monroe.


SVG may also be looking at a player he's very familiar with, Jameer Nelson. I don't know why Denver would do this trade unless Detroit swaps out Cartier Martin for a 2nd-round pick (which you can't simulate in the NBA Trade Machine). Nelson would be an ideal fit, having excelled in SVG's offense in Orlando, and at 32 he's still got something left in the tank. If Detroit is able to trade for him before the deadline this would be the 4th team he's played on this year, which has to be some kind of record.

If SVG opts not to improve the PG position by trade, he may scour the D league. Seth Curry (brother of Steph Curry), Larry Drew II, and David Stockton (son of John Stockton) all represent decent playmaking options out of the D League. I like Curry's upside the best, although Drew & Stockton have better playmaking profiles. The guy they're currently considering, Lorenzo Brown, has the profile as a playmaker in college but has mainly been a shooter in the D League this year.

If the Pistons decide not to go for broke to try and make the 8th seed in the East (probably the wiser move), Van Gundy will need to prepare for the offseason and the draft IMMEDIATELY. First priority would be getting something for Monroe. Greg Monroe is most likely leaving next year. It looked promising for a minute after S-Smoove left and before Jennings got hurt, but now he's probably a lock to go to the Lakers or someplace like that. LA traded for Dwight Howard in 2012, who was similarly on an expiring deal, so it's conceivable that they'd do Monroe for Lin or something like that. Detroit may also try to deal him to Boston for 1 or 2 of their many draft picks.

Other than personnel moves, the Pistons need to work on the development of Drummond and KCP. Neither player has exactly wowed this season, and SVG needs to figure out what he's got there. In the meantime, let's
pour one out for Brandon Jennings.
 

***

While the University of Michigan's basketball season is in shambles, things are looking up for the football team's 2015 season. Jim Harbaugh has gone on a recruiting rampage. He's been in the unenviable position of having to lure already committed recruits from wherever they had committed to over to Michigan. Well, he got 3-star DE Reuben Jones to come over from Nebraska, 2-or-3-star OL Nolan Ulizio to abandon his commitment to UConn, and the big one 4-star QB Zach Gentry to decommit from Texas and switch to Big Blue. All 3 are positions Michigan is weak at (really, where AREN'T they weak?), especially the QB spot. Another guy that may commit in the near future is 3-star DB Chris Williamson, who was part of the same big visit that included Gentry, Jones and Ulizio.


Starting with the big one, and at 6'7" QB Zach Gentry is BIG, unfortunately the only real highlights I could find on him are this 80-yard run and this 85-yard run. He's got some wheels for a big guy, although I don't expect a ton of read option out of Harbaugh's offense. I'd have liked to have seen more throwing highlights, considering Gentry is considered a "pocket passer" prospect, but the physical tools are definitely there.
 


DE Reuben Jones sort of came out of nowhere his senior season. He doesn't have ideal measurables as a DE and his technique could use a little work, but with a redshirt season to bulk up and get some coaching, he could be a player.



Ulizio projects as a RT or a guard. He blocks well in space, and I love watching a lineman finish a block 10 yards downfield.

One of the least-exact sciences in football is projecting how a recruit is going to pan out. So much depends on how he's coached up, scheme-fit, how his body matures as a collegiate athlete, and there isn't a lot of tape vs. FBS-level competition. This could end up being a pretty good class for Harbaugh, but it'll be at least 2 years before we start to see the fruits of it and who knows what these guys will develop into.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Jennings Goes Nuts

The Pistons went stat-happy last night. They lit up Orlando in the first half, 65-48, then nearly gave it away in the 2nd half when their lead slimmed to 2 points in the 4th quarter. SVG switched up the personnel and they jumped out ahead again, winning 128-118. You can't be thrilled by how the defense fell apart in the 2nd half, but the offense was lights out most of the game. Greg Monroe did most of his damage in the 1st half and finished with 24 pts, 10 rebs & 4 assists. Drummond was better with 26 pts, 17 rebs, 4 steals and 3 blocks, but the night belonged to Brandon Jennings.


Jennings was in another world, ripping off 24 pts, 21 assists and only 2 turnovers. He played ok defense, and was the motor running this team. This is the guy Dumars wanted when he traded Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton to Milwaukee for Jennings, only he made the mistake of hiring the wrong coach and bringing in the wrong free agents. In the 15 games since Stan Van Gundy excised the biggest mistake Dumars made (lately), Jennings has been on a roll.
  • Shooting .440 FG%, .404 3P%, .828 FT%
  • Averaging 20 points per game
  • 7.2 assists
  • 1.9 turnovers
  • ...and playing decent defense
If he can keep that up, those are 1st or 2nd team All NBA numbers. He won't make the All Star game, but he may end the year with All Star deserving numbers. Keep an eye on this.

***

The Red Wings have an AWESOME development system. But we knew this.

***

Here's an update, excerpt stolen from Bill Simmons' NBA Trade Value Column, under "Toughest Omissions":
Brandon Jennings: His 2014-15 splits will be studied by social scientists 350 years from now … 
With Josh Smith (25 games): 12.6 ppg, 6.4 apg, 37-33-85%
Without Josh Smith (15 games): 20.0 ppg, 7.2 apg, 44-40-83% 
(By the way: Pistons fans keep asking me how to handle Smith’s dramatic return to Detroit on January 31. I agree with my Grantland Basketball Hour cohost Jalen Rose — a five-minute standing ovation for Josh would deliver the message in the snarkiest way possible. Especially if fans were strewn about the arena dressed as ghosts in Josh Smith/Pistons jerseys and calling themselves “The Ghosts of Brickmas Past.”)

First, I've been saying this about Jennings for the past 2 weeks, maybe longer. Cutting Josh Smith set him free. Second, although I think Pistons fans will most likely boo Josh Smith (why?), I think a 5-minute standing O would be funnier and way more appropriate. For the record, Brandon Knight made the list BARELY at #60, but he did eke out Jennings. Probably due to age difference & contract. Here are the other Pistons on the list:
59. Greg MonroeFor an earlier draft of this piece, I wrote that “if Greg Monroe was a junk food item, he’d be Pop Chips’ sweet potato flavor.” In other words, he made you spend an inordinate amount of time wondering why his flavor doesn’t work. Who doesn’t love sweet potatoes? Who doesn’t love lefty big men who post up AND pass from the high elbow? But then the Josh Smith trade happened and Monroe not-so-magically started ripping off 20-13s after the Pistons finished their basketball chemo treatments. And now he’s absolutely a market max guy. Josh Smith is like Haley Joel Osment in Pay It Forward.
...And that's it.  I expect Drummond may show up somewhere in there, but he is absent through part 1. Drummond is having a down year for him, but he's only 21 and is on his rookie deal. More to come later.
 
 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

News for all 4 major sports

Lots of stuff going on in the 4 major sports in Detroit, but the biggest news would probably be the Tigers dodging a bullet like Neo in the Matrix. Max Scherzer accepted a 7 year, $210M offer from the Nationals with a $50M signing bonus. That's $30M/yr, which will actually be spread out as $15M/yr for 14 years. The Tigers were starting pitching rich and needed more depth in the bullpen and in their lineup, and paying Scherzer and ego-stroking contract was not going to get them to the World Series. The Tigers' unbalanced (salary-wise) roster was a problem, and dumping more money on Max certainly wouldn't fix that.


Dave Dombrowski has often said that he believes starting pitching is the key to post-season to success. This is belied by the fact that the bullpen effectively lost the 3 LDS games this year. They weren't too stellar in the LCS last year either. And the offense certainly flagged as well. So are the Tigers better off this year after upgrading every part of their team apart from starting pitching?

If Verlander & Price have a bounce-back years and Sanchez can stay healthy, the starting pitching might actually be better than it was in 2014. The 'pen is better. With Cabrera's health issues I predict another down year for him, but SS, LF & RF were all upgraded (RF upgraded by JD Martinez taking over for Torii Hunter there), the overall defense was upgraded, and I expect Castellanos to improve over his rookie season. CF is a bit of a concern unless Anthony Gose turns out to be a stud and wins the job outright over Rajai Davis, but I'd say the team as constructed is the most complete team Detroit has fielded since they reversed fortunes back in 2006.

***

The Wings are on an unbelievable hot streak. Goalie Jimmy Howard went down with a groin injury on January 10th and the Detroit is 4-0 since then. Howard was to be the Wings' only representative in the NHL All Star game, so it's not like he's been dragging them down. Petr Mrazek has filled in capably for the most part, except the win over the Sabres when he let in 3 goals on 7 shots & got pulled after 13 minutes. Fortunately, Henrik Zetterberg brought his stick.




Zetterberg is the MAN. He has 41 points on the season (14 goals, 27 assists) after completing the hat trick AND picking up an assist in the Sabres game. Datsyuk has been sweet this year, so has Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar has been a revelation (already has more goals through 46 games than he did last year in 73 games).

Pierre LeBrun things the Wings may stand pat at the trade deadline, and I think that's a safe bet, given the way they're playing.

***


I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Pistons. Despite losing to the Hawks yesterday, Detroit is merely a game & a half behind the 8th spot in the playoffs and 7-3 in their last 10 games. 4 of their remaining 6 opponents this month have winning records, but only 2 of them I would term "good teams."

***

The Lions reportedly told Dom Raiola that they wouldn't sign him after the 2014 season. Totally fine with this. Dom was an OK player, but he clearly lost a step this year & I think the Lions are better off with Swanson at C in 2015. Dom was always a leader on this team, although that wasn't always a good thing. To me he embodies a Lions team that was talented and managed to shoot themselves in the foot with mistakes and bad attitudes.

Raiola might catch on with another team, but I think he's better off retiring and trying his hand at studio analysis for FSD or somebody.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jennings Motors the Pistons, Lions have work to do

Many have attributed the Pistons' recent surge to the release of Josh Smith, and rightly so. The Pistons were 5-23 prior to releasing Smith and are 9-1 since. It's hard to argue with that. A large part of the credit whould also go to Brandon Jennings, who has played like an All Star since J-Smoove was sent packing.

Brandon Jennings Prior to Smith's Release:
11.7 ppg, 6.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 0.9 steals, 2.6 rpg on .361/.321/.855 shooting

Brandon Jennings Since Smith's Release:
22.7 ppg, 7.4 apg, 1.6 tov, 1.6 stl, 2.7 rpg on .470/.422/771 shooting.

If that means nothing to you, think about it this way - Jennings went from playing like Mo Williams to playing like Stephen Curry. HO.LY. CRAP. Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, know that this production is not sustainable. Jennings is a notoriously streaky shooter whose best shooting year before this one was 2011-12 when he had splits of .418/.332/.808. Those are pretty pedestrian numbers.

Either 1) Jennings figured out his stroke the same day Josh Smith was dumped, 2) SVG's offense suddenly started to mesh perfectly with Jennings' game, or 3) Jennings is on a hot streak that will ebb away in a few games. To be honest, I think it's a combination of #2 and #3. Brandon Jennings has too much of a history as an up & down shooter for me to think that this will last, but the architecture of the offense changed dramatically when Smith left and the 2 guys who benefit the most from that are Jennings and Monroe. Jennings isn't going to play like Steph Curry the rest of the season. He's Brandon Jennings, not Steph Curry. But I think he'll be a better version of Brandon Jennings from here on out. Let's look at Monday night's game.



This was not a particularly well-played game by the Pistons. Jonas Valanciunas worked over both Greg Monroe & Andre Drummond to the tune of 31 points and 11 boards. Kyle Lowry had 12 dimes and spread the ball around pretty well, with 7 Raptors scoring in double figures and the team shooting 54% as a whole. The Pistons didn't shoot it well and really only got good offensive performances out of Jennings and Monroe. Exactly the type of game they would have lost a month ago.

Fortunately, it's not a month ago. The Pistons are a different team. After being down by 12 at the half, Detroit flipped a switch in the 3rd quarter and outscored Toronto 66-51 the rest of the way. Jennings went off, the shooting got a little better, and the defense put the clamps on. Jennings had one of his better defensive performances on Lowry, holding him to 3-12 shooting and 7 turnovers, including the game-sealing steal.

The Pistons' only loss since December 21st (last game played with Josh Smith) was to the East-leading Atlanta Hawks. Toronto is #2 in the East, Detroit eked that one out. They also have victories over Dallas & San Antonio, a couple of Western Conference teams that will make the playoffs. They also have wins over Cleveland & Brooklyn, a couple of dumpster-fire teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. This would be a terrible injustice, because Detroit is currently playing like a 4 or 5 seed in the East and a 7 or 8 seed in the West (the West is frickin' PACKED). Grantland's Zach Lowe on things he likes/hates:
6. Watching the Nets
I can no longer live in a world where the Nets could make the playoffs, and two teams out of the Suns, Thunder, and Pelicans will stay home. This cannot be.
... ... ...
The Pistons need to snag that no. 8 seed and FORM A F**KING WALL to prevent the Nets from touching it ever again. 
 I left out his list of reasons why the Nets are unwatchable because while funny, we're not talking about the Nets. A little further down he listed Jodie Meeks' weakside offense as a thing he likes. Now, the Pistons as the 8th seed would be rough. On one hand, it would be their first playoff appearance since 2009, and I feel like they could give Atlanta or whoever a run for their money. On the other hand, they would still most likely lose, and they wouldn't get a good draft pick this year. Detroit would have to leap frog 4 teams, but they are 3 games out of the 7th seed, which is MUCH more preferable. 8 seeds almost never get to the 2nd round, but 7 seeds have a shot. If they can stay hot, Detroit moves into the 7 seed, Miami bumps up to 6th, Cleveland falls to 8th, and Brooklyn bombs out.

***

The Lions' offseason looks to be a bumpy one. They don't have a high draft pick, their best defensive player is either going to leave or cost them a TON of money, and their best assistant coach is probably out the door to take a HC job in either Denver or Atlanta.

Digging underneath what Martin Mayhew said in his season-ending presser, the Lions are probably looking to replace both Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims. Raiola's replacement would most likely be Travis Swanson, who filled in capably at different points this season. Sims could be replaced internally by Garrett Reynolds, but more likely Mayhew will try to either draft a replacement or pick one up in free agency.

All starting defensive tackles are set to go into free agency, which is a problem. The Lions would probably like to get both Suh & Fairley back but that will prove to be difficult. They need to improve their secondary, and the offense needs work (looking at you, Lombardi & Stafford). With Teryl Austin most likely gone, Caldwell is going to have to pull another miracle & find a gem of a DC somewhere.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Make it 7...

I did NOT expect this. The Pistons' winning streak was cute and all, but Cleveland was banged up & on the verge of a slump, and San Antonio limited minutes on a lot of their vets & didn't play Kawhi Leonard at all. So Detroit got hot & beat up some weak competition, luckily catching their 2 stronger opponents on off nights. With last night's win over Dallas in the books, it's official. Forget what you thought you knew, this Pistons team is legit. Josh Smith may have been a cancer, a bad fit, or his release was just a wake up call, but whatever the case, Detroit is 7-0 in the post-J-Smoove era.


It's been kind of like the Arizona Cardinals' "Next Man Up" mantra. Last night it was DJ Augustin and Greg Monroe doing the heavy lifting, but on other nights it has been Drummond, Jennings, or Meeks leading the scoring. The offense has been better (Pistons scored 100+ points in 6 out of the 7 wins), as has the defense (opponents have scored 95 points or less in 5 out of the 7 wins).

One of the more surprising improvements has been the play of the bench. I expected Meeks to help out a bit, but this bench unit has gone from a pretty weak group to a unit that SVG can rely on to close a game. Jerebko has gotten more minutes, probably contributing to that extra level of energy the Pistons have been playing at. The 4th quarter lineup consisted of DJ (+4), Meeks (+12), Butler (+8), Jerebko (+14) and starter Greg Monroe (+11).

Speaking of Greg Monroe, what a monster night he had. 27 points, 18 boards, 6 dimes, and just a whole TON of hustle. Didn't see that hustle stuff much when J-Smoove was on the team, which leads me to believe that Monroe didn't particularly care for Smith. Anyway, his team defense still isn't that great (he got beat BADLY while trying to double team Rondo), but he hammered the glass & played a pretty good 2-man game with Jennings. Check the highlights.


The win puts Detroit 3 games behind the #8 seed in the East. If Detroit plays .600 ball the rest of the season they would finish with 40 wins. Still not great, but 40 wins would represent significant improvement and get them one of the bottom 3 playoff seeds. Tomorrow night they'll get a look at how a top Eastern Conference team plays when Atlanta (Really? Atlanta is #1 in the East???) comes to the Palace.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pistons look for real. NFL officiating... Not so much


It's time to acknowledge the Pistons as semi-legit. They extended their post-Josh Smith winning streak to 6 games with Brandon Jennings' magical game-winning floater over the Spurs last night, in a game I thought they had next to no shot of winning. Well, they did. The win over San Antonio represents their biggest & closest win of this 6-game streak.
  • 12/26 - Beat Indiana by 10
  • 12/28 - Beat Cleveland by 23
  • 12/30 - Beat Orlando by 23
  • 1/2 - Beat New York by 16
  • 1/4 - Beat Sacramento by 19
  • 1/6 - Beat San Antonio by 1
Notice that 4 games in that streak have a differential higher than 15. In part the Pistons were taking advantage of an easier stretch in their schedule, prior to last night. Cleveland was the only team in those 5 games with a winning record at 18-11, but the Pistons caught them on the downswing & the Cavs are 1-5 since (LeBron was healthy at the time, but Varejao had just gone down for the year & Irving missed the game as well). The combined winning % of the 5 teams prior to San Antonio was .377%, which is still better than Detroit's is NOW, but is still pretty weak.

Starting last night, the Pistons were entering a 5-game stretch that would test their mettle. The games - @ San Antonio (.600), @ Dallas (.722), vs. Atlanta (.765!!!), vs. Brooklyn (.471), and @ Toronto (.706). All 5 teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Brooklyn represents the weakest of the group followed by the defending champs, who Detroit managed to beat last night. Also factoring in, Detroit played no back-to-backs in that 5-game stretch. Well, the Pistons play 2 back-to-backs in these 5 games, with Dallas getting game 2 in the 1st back-to-back tonight and Brooklyn getting game 2 in the 2nd back-to-back. Detroit needed to start this run off well (even a well-fought loss would have sufficed), and they certainly managed that.


The Spurs had a HUGE first quarter, but the Pistons fought back in the 3rd and got some big-time boards & putbacks from Drummond & Monroe (combined for 37 points & 28 rebounds). For the first time in 5 games they didn't shoot the 3 well, but they still managed to overcome a very good opponent. The play of the game was the steal/game-winning floater, both by Jennings. This was a classic opportunity for over-coaching, and SVG opted to let his players play. Often the coach will call a TO here to draw up a final play, which often looks like a lot like desperation three (you know, because the OTHER coach also gets a chance to set up his defense, often taking away your first option). Instead Jennings took advantage of the turnover by getting to the hoop before San Antonio's defense could get set. Jennings made this happen by poking the ball lose and then sinking the floater, and SVG allowed it to happen, which you don't alway see. Very nice. SVG also did a good job of calling the correct defense on SA's final play.

Dallas presents an interesting matchup. It's the 2nd of a back-to-back, and the Mavs are also on a 6-game winning streak. The Mavs are pretty good on offense and less good on defense, although they have a couple good defensive players in Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo. Detroit's defense has been better than average recently, but Dirk & Monta create havoc for defenders. I'm not expecting Detroit to win this one (but then again I didn't expect them to beat the Spurs), but I'd like them to be competitive.

***


This is the last I'm going to bring up the penalties in the Lions loss to the Cowboys. The NFL sent the Lions an apology letter for missing a holding call on the game-winning drive that would have made it 4th & 16 from the Cowboys' 48, most likely punting to the Lions with 6 minutes left. That makes 3 bad calls/non-calls in that game that really hurt the Lions:
  1. The picked-up PI flag. Everyone agrees that at the least defensive holding should have been called, which would've given Detroit a first down. A majority think that either PI should have been called or at least it was a 50/50 call and the flag shouldn't have been picked up.
  2. The missed holding call on Dallas' 4th down conversion. Suh was getting bear-hugged, allowing Romo time to get the ball to Witten. A correct call here means Detroit gets the ball back with 6 min & a chance to run out the clock. It wouldn't have sealed the deal for the Lions since the offense was struggling to extend drives in the 2nd half, but this no-call was more blatant than the PI no-call (although the PI no-call exhibited more incompetence on the part of the officials).
  3. The defensive holding call on Levy. He tackled the RB behind the line of scrimmage AND between the tackles after a play fake. That's legal according to the rule book, only the officials didn't seem to think so. If that goes uncalled, Dallas most likely would have kicked a tying FG, giving Detroit the ball back with about 3 min and a chance to win.
This was by far the best game of the Wild Card round and all anyone is talking about is the officiating. That's a problem. Some attention has been called to the fact that this officiating crew had never worked together before, which may have led to the mistakes on calls 2 & 3 and DEFINITELY led to the craziness on call #1.

Another suggestion that was brought up is whether coaches should be able to challenge pass interference and other "judgement calls". I'm against that, but I do think the refs should be able to request to see a play again if they can't agree on a call. The problem with the call when they picked up the flag is 2 refs saw 2 different things, had to agree, and blew it. If the officials had the ability to request to see the play again, like on a tablet or something, they would've had a chance to make the correct call. Again, this wouldn't be a challenge, just giving the officials access to replay when they can't agree on a call.