Our first rematch of the season!
The first Knicks-Pistons matchup was a low-key (or not so low-key, depending on who you ask) disaster. Despite missing Reggie Jackson (who once again won't play in this one -- the injury gods have been kind to the Knicks), the Pistons pulled out the win with some late game "defense", holding the Knicks scoreless in the final 6 minutes of the game. I put that in quotes because the late-game defensive performance was equally a function of a terrible offensive showing in the clutch from this squad.
The good news is that we haven't seen much of that stagnant offense since that game. Even better, Detroit has yet to give up more than 90 points against ANY team when they're playing at home. This is literally inexplicable to me, as Detroit has exactly two players I would call above-average defenders, but I digress. Since they'll be making the trip down to the Garden, we probably won't have to worry about getting shut down again.
Detroit is still a fairly tough matchup, however.
Last game, the Pistons used Andre Drummond sparingly in the pick and roll, preferring to post him up against Joakim Noah. Unsurprisingly for those who have seen Drummond play in the post before, that did not go very well (compared to the damage he does in the pick and roll). That was likely a function of Ish Smith, who is a terrible offensive player; defenders can duck under ball screens for Ish with ease, as Derrick Rose did all game, effectively denying most penetration and nullifying the threat of the ball handler in the pick and roll.
The real damage came from the wing, where leaky defense combined with a bunch of maddeningly typical Knicks-y plays gave Detroit a major advantage. Marcus Morris became a Carmelo Monstar, Tobias Harris initiated our collective panic over KP's defense, and the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Russian Roulette trigger pull worked in their favor (dude is, historically, super inconsistent).
Some of those things are repeatable for Detroit, which is worrying. Morris might shred Carmelo again if Melo spends too much time at small forward -- this is an assignment that Justin Holiday should grab if Morris catches fire again. When this happens, Clyde will undoubtedly refer to Holiday as "The Fireman" one more time as Knicks nation collectively cringes. Tobias Harris is a mismatch for KP as long as they are both at the 4, so another big night for the Long Island native isn't out of the question. If either of these guys brick their early jump shots, the Knicks might be OK, but there's definitely danger here.
On the other hand, Rose and Noah should be able to repeat their own performances. Noah clowned Drummond after a shaky first quarter, limiting him to 9 points on 4/13 shooting with only two offensive rebounds, and Rose was fine in an easy matchup with Ish Smith, who, again, is bad. The problem, of course, is that Noah will again be unable to leave Drummond to help -- with KP defending Harris on the perimeter, Detroit’s personnel create issues defending the rim. Not much you can do under those conditions, so it will be even more important in this matchup to control dribble penetration and keep their man in front (*gulp*).
Detroit should struggle to contain the Knicks' offense in MSG (I was going to write "will", but quickly realized that would be a monumental error), and the noteable lack of Kyle O'Quinn will be a boon compared to the first matchup, where he posted a massive offensive rating of 0. That is not a typo. With a bit more offensive rhythm and chemistry, the Knicks should be able to get by on offense.
Lastly, there's the question of the small lineup that blew the game open vs. Dallas on Monday. That worked because Dallas didn't have a single big man capable of punishing Porzingis defensively and on the glass -- Bogut and Mejri were both played off the floor on defense, and couldn't do squat on offense to boot. Carlisle went so far as to try Harrison Barnes at center (!!!!) as a last ditch effort. Many will likely call for this lineup, and we'll likely see it at some point. When Drummond is in the game, however...it could mean big trouble on the boards.
Look for Hornacek to use KP at the 5 against Detroit's backups, and look for him to try it as a "BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY" lineup if they need a spark on either end.
If the Knicks can start strong, which is apparently a lot to ask, they'll probably win. Knowing the Knicks, this is a 50/50 game, even though it really shouldn't be.
Stan Van Gundy is a good coach, though, and teams have already caught on to defensive strategies against the Knicks starting unit (duck under screens, stay glued to KP, ignore Noah). The Pistons will surely execute the same game plan. It's up to Noah to stay active to try and punish Detroit for leaving him alone. It helps that Drummond, somehow, claims much defensive inspiration from Andrea Bargnani.
As usual, I have no clue where this is going. When the Knicks play with energy and passion, they are better than the Pistons in current form. Of course, more often than not, the Knicks show as much passion for basketball as I show for a straight week of eating nothing but cottage cheese. And I hate cottage cheese.
Prediction: Drummond is held to less than four offensive rebounds again. Courtney Lee gets on track and hits 3+ from beyond the arc. Hornacek throws out KP at the 5 against Drummond, and it finishes with a positive net rating despite being destroyed on the boards, because Andre Drummond spends too much time contemplating the existence of God when he should be playing defense.
Knicks win, 102-99.