The Pick: Timberwolves 104-95
I understand that home teams win more often than road teams, but I’m a firm believer that the better basketball team should be favored; and I don’t think today’s Vegas line demonstrates that. Kevin Love (personal reasons) is expected to return to the lineup for the first time since December 1, joining forces with Nikola Pekovic on a front line that should be able to do enough to neutralize the Pistons’ “big three” (Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe).
When the Timberwolves have the ball, I like this matchup for their backcourt. Ricky Rubio still struggles with consistency, but he can generate havoc defensively and create easy scoring opportunities in transition, two important qualities against a Pistons team that ranks in the bottom quarter of the league in turnover differential and field goal percentage against. I also think this is a great spot for Kevin Martin to erupt as the Pistons can defend the rim but struggle on the perimeter. Martin, who is one of five players in the league (LeBron James, James Harden, Love, and DeMarcus Cousins) who averages at least 22 points and takes fewer than 18 shots per night, has scored at least 20 points in 13 of his 19 games and has made as many three-pointers as the record breaking Kyle Korver has this year. The Pistons’ defense ranks in the bottom ten in the league in three-pointers allowed and three-point percentage, leading me to believe that K-Mart can get his 20 points tonight, something the Pistons backcourt is going to struggle to match.
When the Pistons are on offensive, Smith simply takes on too large of a role. Detroit leads the league in paint points per game, but with Love/Pekovic in the middle and a versatile defender in Corey Brewer, getting good looks at the rim is not going to be easy. That’s, of course, operating under the assumption that Smith even wants to attack the rim tonight. He’s shooting 27.4-percent from three-point land, yet he ranks inside the top 25 in terms of three point attempts (ten more attempts than Kevin Durant). It would be easy to write that off as a bad stretch of shooting, but the man is a 28.3-percent career three-point shooter over ten seasons: he simply can’t shoot. In fact, Tony Mitchell (don’t worry if you don’t know the name, he averages 3.1 minutes) has a greater PER than Smith. Yikes.
Brandon Jennings can fill it up, but he too is shooting less than 40-percent from the field. Andre Drummond is my pick for the team’s best player, but with free throw shooting being a major flaw (he is a big man who averages 24 minutes for his career, yet is making 1.1 free throws), he is far from unstoppable. Detroit joins Toronto as the only team to rank in the bottom ten in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and have a negative turnover ratio, a damning stat when playing Minnesota (the second ranked team in terms of turnovers forced). The Pistons can be a very good team when the stars align, but their mean performance is much lower than that of the Timberwolves. I prefer to bet on what is most likely to happen as opposed to what could happen.
Fun Fact: Rubio is averaging more steals on the road than all but two Pistons are assists at home.