Not Your Garden Variety 2-Game Winning Streak
With the way the Pistons have been going lately, a two-game winning streak is cause for a minor celebration. After all, this is a team that had recently shown the ability to lose to all sorts of NBA squads. Teams that were struggling mightily, with head coaches about to be shown the door, still had enough to walk into the Palace and get a win (Minnesota, Philadelphia). Teams like the Wizards, sitting at 3-15 and still adjusting to new boss Ed Tapscott, were able to take out the Pistons by double digits. Michael Curry's team was quickly becoming the one you wanted to play if nothing was going right and you wanted to right the ship with a solid win. Hopefully with this much needed, albeit bizarre, two-game run, the Pistons can really start to make some waves in the East.
The win over the Pacers on Friday night proved one thing: the Pistons cannot defend Danny Granger...at all. He went off for a career-high 42. To go with his opening night 33, that's 75 in 2 ballgames against the Pistons this season. Yikes. One thing that has become noticeable since Curry switched to the smaller starting lineup is the inability to keep talented small forwards even remotely in check. With the smallish backcourt of Stuckey and Iverson, Rip Hamilton has been forced to routinely line up against the opposing team's 3-man. Caron Butler torched him for 33...Granger dropped his 42. Somehow, the Pistons are going to have to become more of a feisty, scrambling, defensive team to make up for the mismatches created by the new starting 5.
The Bobcat win Saturday night is that rare win that somehow feels like a loss. Having a 29-point 3rd quarter lead dwindled down to 1 in the last minute, only to pull it out with a Sheed triple, is not a win you go bouncing happily into the locker room with. The little lineup really worked in this game just the way Curry must have imagined it would. Rip, Iverson, and Stuckey all shot the ball extremely well, and each contributed nicely on the glass. It's always nice getting a win over Larry Brown, too. It's funny...normally, when your hometown team wins a championship, you look back on everything about that year with such fond memories. And that 2004 title will always be extremely sweet to me. But with the way LB left the team, and then his behavior during the '05 run to the Finals in talking with other teams, I really hold nothing but sour memories for the title-winning coach. And I know a lot of other Pistons fans who feel the same way. It takes a special kind of guy to be able to win a title in a city, and have those same fans in that city hating you within 5 years. Larry Brown was able to accomplish this rare feat. For now, his Bobcats have lost 6 straight and are the only NBA team averaging less than 90 points a game. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy...
If there is one puzzling thing about Mr. Curry's rotation right now, it is his insistence on keeping Tayshaun Prince on the floor for about 40 minutes a game. Tayshaun has obviously been put into a difficult spot moving to the starting power forward spot. However, with the return of Antonio McDyess, one would think that Tay would get more breathers, so as to recover from the banging he's encountering on a nightly basis. Not the case. In the 3 games since Dyess returned, and Tay moved to the 4-spot, he has logged 40, 41, and 38 minutes. Not coincidentally, he has scored in single digits in all three games, the first such streak for him this season. In one of those games, Prince labored through his 40 minutes while super-sub Jason Maxiell never got off the pine. It is well known that in the last few years, Tayshaun's game has tended to disappear the further the Pistons advance in the playoffs. With this in mind, it wouldn't be a bad idea to try and keep his minutes at a more manageable 32-33, hopefully leading to a fresher #22 come late May.
Everett...Laird...Jackson...Can You Say '27 Yankees?
Conversation overheard at the Winter Meetings...
Yankees Fan: "Yeah man, we just gotta figure out who we want to throw Game 1 of the World Series come next October! C.C. got the big bucks, but Wang has been our best guy the last couple years. And A.J. Burnett might have been the best AL starter down the stretch last season."
Tigers Fan: "With Adam Everett taking over at shortstop and Brandon Inge going back to 3rd Base, I think we might have the worst hitting left side of the infield in the history of baseball!!"
The Tigers have quietly been adding pieces to their 2009 roster in the last week. Understandably, with a team that scored the 4th most runs in the AL last season, defense and pitching have been targeted as priorities. While many in the Motor City thought heading into last year that the team would simply slug their way into the playoffs, that's never been how baseball works. The best teams have potent lineups, no doubt. But while bats can go cold for a week or two, good glovemen usually remain so for the duration of the season.
The shortstop position was not exactly a strength of the Tigers last season. Edgar Renteria had a less than stellar year at the plate, and he wasn't exactly Eddie Brinkman with the leather, either. Normally on a grounder to short, you can start writing the 6-3 in your scorebook when you see it's going to be routine. When Mr. Renteria is involved, you best wait until the play is fully completed before going to work with your 3-inch pencil. Which makes the recent signing of the aforementioned Adam Everett seem pretty sensible. The only thing you wonder is whether the obvious upgrade in the field is enough to offset the drastic drop you prepare to take in offense with Everett presumably getting 4-500 at-bats. Widely considered one of the smoothest fielders in the game, Everett has had trouble staying healthy the last two years, while also struggling with the bat like never before. Last year, in his first season in the AL, Everett hit .213 in 48 games for the Twins.
One thing Tigers fans might be hoping for with Everett replacing Renteria is an upgrade in team speed. With the Tigers ranking last in the AL in stolen bases in '07 (even behind the plodding White Sox), you might think Everett's legs would be a small bonus. However, last season, he stepped up to the plate 150 times and not once attempted to steal a base. For a guy that used to swipe 10-20 bags, it's a pretty surprising statistic. Best case scenario is that he stays healthy, plays about 125 games, picks the ball up at short, and hits somewhere in the neighborhood of .240. Worst case scenario is that he stays healthy, plays about 125 games, picks the ball up at short, and hits somewhere in the neighborhood of .165. (It's scary...but with Everett and Inge's batting averages declining severely in each of the last 4 years, they could become the first SS-3rd duo in MLB history to both check in under the Mendoza line...by the way, plenty of 2009 season tickets still available!!)
The Gerald Laird pickup is notable for two reasons: first, he has a terrific arm behind the plate, and should help Tigers pitchers keep runners from collecting too many thefts next year. Secondly, he is widely considered one of the uglier players in all of baseball. There's an old story floating around that Laird was a great outfielder growing up, until his coach noticed the unfortunate looking melon atop young Gerald's shoulders. "Put this on, QUICK!" the coach yelped, as he handed him a catcher's mask. Laird's been behind the dish ever since. When fans in opposing stadiums next year shout to the Tigers, "Hey You! With the misshapen head!," Placido Polanco can take some satisfaction knowing that he won't be the only one looking up to the stands to see who said it.
As for Edwin Jackson...I liked him better when they called him Mike Harkey.
At Least Our Coach Wasn't The One Wearing A Sweater Vest
Yes, the Lions managed to lose their 14th in a row to continue their magical run of incompetence. But it was not in typical embarrassing Lion fashion. Dan Orlovsky looked respectable for the most part at quarterback. The offensive line did a very nice job all day, and Kevin Smith made plays when he needed to. The special teams were terrific, forcing turnovers and winning the field position battle. However, the defense got carved up when it mattered most and the Colts pulled out the victory 31-21.
Give defensive coordinator Joe Barry all the credit in the world, though, for making zero adjustments during the game as to how they would defend Peyton Manning and company. Anytime you can allow a guy to complete 76 percent of his passes and force zero turnovers in the process, you've done your job as a Lions coach. Honestly, it looked like Manning and his guys were going through the motions for stretches of the game today. When they needed to put a drive together if the game got too tight, like at the end of the 1st half and in the 4th quarter, they moseyed on down the field without breaking a sweat. Admittedly, Marinelli's son-in-law does not have a ton of talent at his disposal. However, I have never seen such vanilla approaches on a week-to-week basis as I have in watching Barry's units this season. Somehow it has become acceptable to get thrashed basically every week by opposing quarterbacks without any accountability by the guy in charge of the group. Really, would anybody object if the Lions hired the guy who played Coach Yost in 'Remember the Titans' to be the D-Coordinator next season. He wouldn't even permit his boys to allow one yard!
Next week, the Saints come to town with their abysmal 1-6 record on the road. Their playoff hopes went up in flames Thursday night with a loss at Soldier Field. Really, if there ever was a team ripe for the picking, it's this Saints club. They have a history of collapsing down the stretch and now there are rumors of in-fighting between Reggie Bush and Coach Sean Payton. Really, how motivated will they be coming to Ford Field next Sunday? I've said all along I think it is just too hard for an NFL team to lose all 16 games in a year. With decent efforts each of the last two weeks against probable playoff teams, I think the Lions finally pull the rabbit out of their hat against the 'Aints. Calling out 31-24 Lions, with a 98% chance that the headline in the next day's Free Press will simply read, "FINALLY!"
Feel free to post your own Lions predictions, along with Monday's newspaper headline, in the comments section found at the conclusion of the article. (Do not have to be registered to post) Or shoot me any other thoughts or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org