Five things to watch in Lakers-Pistons matchup
1. How will the Lakers respond on a back-to-back?
The Lakers embark on their second set of back-to-backs Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. PST against Detroit, something that became a mixed bag for the Lakers in the 2009-2010 season as 15 of their 25 losses came on these trips. Nonetheless, the Lakers fared the best on back-to-backs when both of those games came on the road, as indicated by their 16-8 mark. The Lakers (9-2) decreased from 20 sets of back-to-backs last season to 15 this season, marking the first time since the NBA's first season in 1948-49 the Lakers have played such few sets.
Detroit (4-7) shouldn't be much of a test. The Lakers, after all, have won their last two road games against the Pistons by an average of 13.5 points. But it'll be interesting to see if any outside variables, such as the travel and the quick turnaround from the Lakers' 118-107 win Tuesday over Milwaukee, has any bearing on Wednesday night's contest.
2. Will the Lakers' rotation change?
One of the biggest areas to see where the back-to-back will influence the game involves the team's rotations. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson typically plays his starters heavier minutes on one of the games (usually the most competitive), which partly explains why Pau Gasol played 44 minutes against Milwaukee and Derrick Caracter earned a "DNP." It wouldn't be surprising for that to change against the Pistons, even before the Lakers build a large lead. It also wouldn't be surprising if Ron Artest plays more than the 17 minutes he logged against Milwaukee. Although he didn't divulge much to reporters afterward, the KCAL-9 telecast indicated that Artest had problems with his hip during the game. Jackson says he'll play Artest against the Pistons, so it wouldn't be too surprising if Matt Barnes doesn't log the 27 minutes he had against the Bucks. Still, Artest has had a so-so season both in offense and defense, and I wouldn't be surprised if his limited minutes become more of the norm this season.
3. How will Pistons' inner turmoil hold up?
Things aren't exactly going well in Detroit, and I'm not talking about its economic turmoil. The Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis and Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears detailed pretty well the team's dissension with Coach John Kuester. Some examples: Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince having a heated argument on the sideline with Kuester during Detroit's 101-97 loss Monday to the Golden State Warriors. Detroit guard Ben Gordon and forward Austin Daye openly questioned Kuester's in-game adjustments. And Kuester benched Pistons forward Rodney Stuckey during a recent loss in Atlanta after he ignored his name being called twice by Kuester.
Obviously, the Pistons' challenge in upsetting the defending champs goes beyond Xs and O's.
4. Can the Lakers sustain a sizable lead?
I don't forsee the result really remaining in question. Though Detroit his six players averaging double figures, its low assist rate shows the Pistons don't really play as a team. Also, as Jackson appropriately noted, "Detroit's been an empty Palace for the last couple years," so I wouldn't expect as hostile an environment as the Lakers typically experience. But I'm curious whether the Lakers can hold a double-digit lead, not just because of their interest level, but because of Detroit's ability to overcome large deficits.
The Pistons' bench, featuring Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, has two of the team's top scorers and largely contributed to the team's effort in slicing a 32-point deficit in Monday's four-point loss to Golden State. In a road game Dec. 20, the Lakers' bench allowed a 21-point lead against the Pistons to evaporate to within eight points in the fourth quarter, forcing the starters to come back in and secure the victory. The makeup of the Lakers' reserves is much different this season, but it's still something the team should have on its mind.
5. Artest reunion
I don't want to overstate this because this is the fifth time Artest has played in Detroit since the infamous brawl at the Palace in 2004, but I have to think the reunion of sorts gives him a great opportunity to promote his cause for mental health issues.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant finishes off a dunk against the Detroit Pistons in the first quarter of a regular-season game two seasons ago. Credit: Jeff Kowalsky/EPA.