Cleveland v. Detroit: The only N.B.A. Playoffs match-up with a needle exchange program


Surprise, surprise—this is AJ, not Kyle—writing about Detroit.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Apologies at the onset for forgoing my usual beat which is anywhere within a hundred-mile radius of a kimchi taco truck that features a line of guys wearing #manscarves in 78-degree weather; but there is a method to this drill.

…It’s basically to bring Kyle Magin up to date on Detroit basketball.

Kyle abandoned his beloved Bad Boys about the same time the team deemed it appropriate for him to do so, see: Charlie Villanueva and Lawrence Frank and Josh Smith. Notwithstanding the whole issue of private equity firm owner/Satan’s Tinder profile Tom Gores who resembles a hungover Wayne Newton wondering whether it’s Sunday in the Green Valley buffet line and his machinations to relo the team downtown to, you know, basically Create Blight from Hope (<– new Auburn Hills city slogan) or at least furnish AH with the only needle exchange center in the U.S. that has sky boxes.

But let’s look past all that for a moment, shall we? After all, if boycotting professional (and ‘amateur’) sports because we don’t like the overlords ignoring our requests to hold the onions becomes a thing then we’re going to have a lot fewer excuses as to why it’s taking so long to dig those stumps out of the back yard and switch out the hinges on the front gate on the weekends.

Or in simpler terms, a lot more viewings of Milk Money on Lifetime lie in wait.

The Pistons drew the Cleveland Cavaliers in a best of seven opening round playoff series. The Cavs, because their 36-month lease on a two-door 2014 LeBron James has yet to expire, are the better basketball team. The Cavs also made a habit late in the regular season (Brooklyn, Indiana, Chicago…even Detroit) of losing to lesser teams—before rallying to win four straight to end their 2015-’16 campaign.

So Cleveland is not averse to being beaten. They’re also not averse to stooped shoulders, and looking for answers on their sneaker tops; body language in the huddle that says I have about as much faith in whatever Tyronn Lue is saying as a 26-year-old lanyard-bedecked bro at a tech conference wiping nose-bridge sweat from his Warby Parkers while trying not to wince as the keynote uses words like “disrupt”, “nascent technology” and couples it with some faked/failed/bungled Steve Jobs reference.

The Pistons are still barely of drinking age as a collective. Besides youth and better posture, they’ve got a few things going for them.

They are:

  1. Andre Jamal Drummond: Remember the 6’10” all-purpose forward/center who averaged 10 points and 7.6 rebounds for a somewhat transitioning UConn team that bowed out in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament to Iowa State? Remember the projected number one overall went on to slip to the 9th overall only to become an All-Star with 2012 draftmate Draymond Green this year? Oh, and he grew a couple inches and added about 70 pounds too—insert Greg Oden/Benjamin Button jokes here. Yeah, that Andre Drummond. He’s pretty good. Drummond doesn’t shoot enough (in a February tilt with Cleveland he scored 16, grabbed 15 boards and only shot eight times.) But scoring is not what they’re going to need from Drummond this series. If he can box out Tristan Thompson and play help side when LeBron gets into the paint, creating a few turnovers and sparking a fast break—which Detroit does better than any team east of Caesar’s Palace—it’s on.
  2. At 23, Tobias Harris has been a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Orlando Magic and the Detroit Pistons. It’s kind of like being a West Coast regional sales rep and saying you’ve had to move between Bakersfield, Fresno, Lodi and now finally you’ve made it to Sacramento. Baby steps. Harris is a stunning defender. Harris can move in transition. Harris averages 14 and 7 per night. But the most important thing, Harris can shut down Kyrie Irving.
  3. Reggie Jackson. Mr. October’s namesake could become Mr. May. The Italian-born, OKC cast-off Jackson at 26 is the team’s Master Shifu. He can defend Kyrie, LeBron and play dirty back whenever Dellavedova gets the call. But here’s the thing, the aforementioned don’t do a very good job defending him. (Aside: is it me or would OKC have been inexplicably unstoppable, like Lena Dunham, with Harden and Jackson in the backcourt instead of Westbrook?) Jackson started 13 playoff games with OKC and forces Detroit to play a little more West Coast/uptempo/better than they are right now. It was at times frustrating, early season especially, to watch Drummond and Co. trailer, but as the season went on and those young legs got loose, Detroit resembled less and less the physical, gritty spider-and-worm Pistons of days gone by and more the screen-and-step-back and flash to your mark next-gen Young Turks of Eastern Conference. Detroit’s continued ability to set the dashboard clock by Jackson’s moves vs. Bron & co. (avg. 20.3, 7.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals…incl. making 40+ percent beyond the arc vs. the Cavs this season) is going to be the crux of the matchup.

Detroit HC Stan Van Gundy has beaten LeBron before in an Eastern Conference playoff series. And he definitely has that kick of wing sauce clinging to that stache of his to notch this youth movement up at The Palace like it’s a Sanders rally.

All roads to N.B.A. title contention lead Detroit in the future, but for now it remains to be seen whether the Motor City’s got enough guns and weed in the glove department to dethrone a king.

Tip-off Sunday, April 17 at high noon.


  1. Pistons are a fun team to watch this year, and do have a promising future. Playing in the NBA east helps.
    They are not not that far from being in the mix at the top. Maybe Labron’s next stop?

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