Cavaliers at Pistons preview
LeBron James is not letting his impending free agency at the end of the season distract him from having another MVP type year. James ranks among the league leaders in points (29.4 per game, 3rd in the league), rebounds (6.8, 39th), assists (8.1, 6th), steals (1.5, 26th) and field goal percentage (52.7 percent, 20th).
Offseason acquisition Shaquille O’Neal (11.3 points, 6.9 rebounds) has missed the Cavaliers last five games with a shoulder injury, but is expected to return Wednesday against Detroit. O’Neal returned to practice on Monday.
Point guard Mo Williams (17.3 points, 4.6 assists) is Cleveland’s second-best option offensively and free-agent pickup Anthony Parker (8.6 points) has fit in nicely in the Cavs system.
Power forward J.J. Hickson has started the last eight games for Cleveland and is averaging 13.6 points and 3.5 rebounds since entering the starting five. Anderson Varejao has come off the bench the last two games after returning from a hip injury.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas (7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.29 blocks) is another low-post presence for Cleveland and will come off the bench if O’Neal returns.
Key matchup — Pistons Jonas Jerebko vs. Cavaliers LeBron James: Jerebko will face his toughest defensive assignment to date in James. Jerebko guarded Kobe Bryant at times last week, but will start out on James Wednesday night. James is able to hurt you in a number of ways and completely shutting him down is nearly impossible, but limiting him will go a long way for the Pistons.
“I can’t guard him by myself every time, I got to get some help,” Jerebko admitted. “People staying in the lane and things like that. We are going to a good job with helping and I’m going to do a good job with my defense too. ... He can do a little bit of everything. Everybody knows who LeBron is, he can do everything. You just have to try and stay in front of him and not give him easy shots, and easy stuff so that’s what I’ll do.”
The skinny — The Pistons (5-9) have lost five straight after going 0-4 on last week’s West Coast road trip. Detroit will certainly be happy to be back at The Palace Wednesday night, but hosting Cleveland is hardly a welcome homecoming.
Most of the Pistons current rotation, including four starters, were not with the team last season when it was swept by Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs, so that will have no factor in Wednesday’s game, but Detroit will be eager to show it’s still a threat to Cleveland in the Central Division.
Pistons coach John Kuester said despite losing all four games on the West Coast trip, he feels the team gave a great effort and have a chance to turn things around Wednesday.
“Any time you lose it’s not pleasurable,” Kuester said. “The players realize it’s always more fun to win and learn from your mistakes as opposed to lose and learn from them. That’s what we’re trying to do right now, get on the right track. Our guys gave great effort. I know the Phoenix game was not the way we had played most of the season — pretty much the entire season — and we’re looking forward to bouncing back.”
It will also be an important game for Kuester, who was an assistant coach for Cleveland last season. Kuester was credited for Cleveland’s high-powered offense last season, but said the players deserve the credit.
“We had a wonderful group to work with last year,” Kuester said. “The players deserve all the credit. They worked so hard as a unit and were so unselfish, and really did a wonderful job. They made all of our jobs easier.”
The last few games of the West Coast trip Chris Wilcox and DaJuan Summers played more minutes than Kwame Brown and Austin Daye, who appeared to be ahead of Wilcox an Summers prior to the trip. Kuester said not to read too much into the minutes the last few games.
“Chris Wilcox and all of our young players have worked real hard in practice and deserve an opportunity,” Kuester said. “We just gave Chris an opportunity the last few games, but Kwame is a big part of this picture of what we have, so don’t read into that. ... The same thing (with Austin).”
Prediction: Cavaliers 99, Pistons 92; Pemberton’s record: 8-6