Billups to Start

Lineup juggling likely, but Pistons will start Chauncey Billups in opener

Chauncey Billups
Chauncey Billups
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Teams don’t spend much time scouting the opposition in preseason, focusing instead on their own training camp experimentation with the playbook and lineup combinations. That goes double for tonight’s Pistons preseason opener against a completely foreign opponent, Israeli Super League reigning champion Maccabi Haifa.

Since that June win over the dynastic Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise – Will Bynum’s old team – Haifa has lost its star point guard, Gal Mekel, to the Dallas Mavericks and on Monday night lost 130-89 at Phoenix before a police escort to the airport and a commercial flight to Detroit.

“I don’t know anything about ’em, but we’re mostly going to focus on ourselves,” Maurice Cheeks said. “That’s what I’m going to do in these preseason games, focus on the things we’re trying to do as opposed to worrying whether they run 20 screen and rolls or 30 down screens. We’re going to try to do the things we’re capable of doing.”

Haifi is heavy on former American college players, including Sherwood Brown, who enjoyed five minutes of fame as one of the stars of 2013 NCAA tournament Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast; former Marquette point guard David Cubillan; 2004 Hawks draftee Donta Smith, who committed to Louisville out of junior college but entered the draft instead; and former Illinois forward Brian Randle.

Cheeks said Tuesday morning that Chauncey Billups would start alongside Brandon Jennings in the backcourt and that Greg Monroe, who dropped out of Monday’s practice late with a minor hamstring irritation, would be in the starting lineup with Andre Drummond and Josh Smith up front.

With eight new players and only Monroe and Drummond as holdover starters – and even Drummond started only the season’s final 10 games a year ago – the Pistons have more at stake in preseason than other teams.

“Never has preseason been more important,” Cheeks said. “Not in terms of winning and losing, but just in terms of getting some continuity with each other and not just hearing me out there the whole time.”

Peyton Siva, who has missed all of training camp with a calf strain, and Gigi Datome, who suffered a hamstring injury in Saturday’s open practice at The Palace, will not be available tonight.

Cheeks, who said he has no predetermined rotation pattern for tonight’s opener, said the starting lineup – particularly the shooting guard spot – will be in flux at least in the early going of preseason.

“The next game it’ll probably be somebody different,” Cheeks said. “I just like those five because I can play Jennings and Billups, either one can play either one or two, and the three big guys are going to interchange at different spots. Most of the guys we have at the one and two can play one and two.”

Tonight’s game will be broadcast on WXYT 1270-AM. There is no TV coverage.