The Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers will face each other Friday night for the first time since a somewhat chippy and intense playoff series last spring that ended in a Cleveland sweep in the first round. But the games were more competitive — and physical — than a typical sweep.
Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio
Pistons forward Stanley Johnson, at the time only a rookie, bragged he thought he was in LeBron James' head during the series. And if he wasn't, the Pistons certainly seemed to be targeting it.
Andre Drummond clubbed James with a blow to the head during the series, and Marcus Morris caught James with a body shot. The series grew in intensity throughout, although both sides survived without serious injuries.
James sat out Wednesday's loss at Indiana to rest, lowering the Cavs' record in games without him to 4-16 since he returned to Cleveland three seasons ago. But he'll be back in the lineup for Friday's game in Cleveland, and J.R. Smith could return after missing three games with a sore right ankle.
The Cavs appear to have a decided edge over Detroit in rebounding. Although Drummond ranks second in the league in rebounding (13.8 per game), he isn't getting much help. The Pistons rank toward the middle of the pack in rebounding, while the Cavs rank fifth and feature two of the best in Kevin Love (10.8 rpg) and Tristan Thompson (9.9 rpg).
The Pistons were smashed on the glass during Tuesday's loss at New York, losing the rebounding 52-40 while allowing the Knicks 19 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points. Given the number of extra looks the Knicks received, that figure should've been even higher.
“We'll be able to go in and look at 10 or 12 plays that were just lack-of-effort plays, lack-of-focus plays,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press. “You can't afford that on the road and we continue to do that.”
The Pistons are perfect at home this season, but have just one road win in seven tries. It's a disappointing start for a team that expected to take a big leap after securing the eighth seed last season and pushing the eventual champions despite the sweep.
Now the Cavs are rolling despite Wednesday's loss. They're among the league leaders in a number of offensive categories and coach Tyronn Lue believes they can play even better.
Quickening the pace was a focus for Lue since taking over at midseason last year. He likes the way James pushes when the ball is in his hands, but believes the pace slows a bit when Kyrie Irving is in charge. After lagging near the bottom of the league in pace last season, the Cavs rank just outside the top 10 this year. They are one of 11 teams right now generating at least 100 possessions per game.
“I think offensively we're doing a good job of sharing the basketball. We're trying to play with pace. We need to play even faster,” Lue said. “At times we play fast, at times we kind of slowly bring the ball up the court. So, if we play with pace we're hard to stop.”