The Portland Trailblazers are off to an outstanding start to the season, but so are their opponents, the Detroit Pistons. The two teams will square off at 9:00 PM ET on Sunday night in the Moda Center, home of the Trailblazers. Portland have started things off at 4-2, while Detroit will take to the road with a 4-1 record this season.
Both teams have a surprisingly dominant offense, but Detroit will look to grab an edge on the boards.
Andre Drummond’s rebounds per game is nearly the same as the highest point scorer on their team. He grabs 19 a game, while Reggie Jackson scores 19.6 a game. If Portland wants to win, Mason Plumlee must play out of his socks against the beast down low. If he dominates the glass on both ends as he has so far this season, the Blazers are in for a rough game against the 4-1 Detroit Pistons.
On Thursday, the Blazers proved their potential in a shocking double digit win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis embarrassingly knocked Portland’s veteran team out of last season’s playoffs, and the young new team gave them a butt-whoopin’ Thursday. The key to their victory was ball movement and top class shooting. The team dished out 29 assists with only nine turnovers, their highest assist total and assist to turnover ratio this year. In addition, they made 15 of 30 three pointers, contributing to the 40 point third quarter that cracked open the game. The highest scoring back court duo in the NBA did it again too, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard combined for 47 points and 11 three pointers.
"We've just got to keep on going, and keep playing hard," said Lillard, a two-time All-Star, who has become the centerpiece of the franchise. "That's where our strength is."
After the Memphis beat down, Portland improved to 4-2 on the season, stringing together three straight wins following the back to back losses to the Phoenix Suns. A win tonight puts them in outright first place of the Northwest Division. Utah is also 4-2, but they’re next game isn’t played until Tuesday when they face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Besides controlling Drummond on the glass, the Blazer guards need to step up their defense. Highlighted in during the Phoenix matchups, opposing guards have their way with McCollum and Lillard. They penetrate at ease, making defending harder for Meyers Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu and Plumlee.
"We know we have to come out and fight, be a scrappy team," said Leonard, who shook off a sore ankle to score 14 points in 27 minutes against the Grizzlies on Thursday. "Nothing will be handed to us, especially this year."
Reggie Jackson is off to the best start of his career, as is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The two have been a deadly duo, surprising teams only prepared to handle Drummond down low. However, shutting Jackson down before he can run the offense takes Drummond out of the game offensively, a huge step in limiting their scoring.
"Feels great to start off this way," Jackson, averaging 21.7 points in his last three games. "It's a tough six-game road trip. We got the first one. We can't worry about the third, fourth, fifth or sixth. We've got to focus on the second."
Outside of Portland’s starters, the bench can potentially impact the game.
On average, Detroit’s subs score 18 of their 96 points per game. Last game versus the Suns, four Piston bench players joined for just 21 points in ample playing time. The starters put up the other 79 points needed to secure the victory.
Portland’s bench, on the other hand, scores 26 of 103 a game. Very few bench players see more than 10 minutes other than Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis and Moe Harkless. McCollum is often running point with this group while the other starters rest, and their off ball movement and strong defense enables McCollum to score at will like he’s done so far this season.
If they perform as they did against Memphis where the three combined for 30 points, the Blazers starting five can receive help against a surprisingly potent Piston offense.
"They're a young team, they're athletic," Memphis coach David Joerger said regarding the Pistons.
"We're happy with where we're at but we understand, and I'll say it over and over again, it's about the process," Leonard said. "It's about the grind. Just believe in each other."