LeBron’s LCA debut goes nuclear early as Cavs put the hurt on Pistons
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Three quick observations from Monday night’s 116-88 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Little Caesars Arena
1-ONE TO FORGET – Well, that couldn’t have gone much worse. It seemed a bad sign when LeBron James came out fully engaged, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and looking to get his game going early instead of his often-employed strategy of acting as playmaker and getting his teammates involved first. He had 16 points less than eight minutes into the game, making all three of his 3-point tries. He dragged his teammates along with him as soon they all got in the act. The Cavs hit 11 triples – from seven different players – in the first half alone, when they scored 73, and finished 16 of 33 from the arc (15 of 25 through three quarters) with nine players getting in on the act. The last time these teams met – at Cleveland last March – the Cavs led at halftime 74-48. This time: 73-46. It was the most points the Pistons have given up in a half this season – by nine points. The Pistons appeared to let Cleveland’s shot-making sap their spirit. Stan Van Gundy surely wasn’t happy with the number of second chances the Cavs got or the cutters who slipped behind his defense or the transition threes or the slow rotations and passive closeouts to shooters. Not a lot went right. It was just the second loss for the Pistons at Little Caesars arena in nine games. Turn the page.
2-WHAT ABOUT DEFENSE? – The expectation that the Cavaliers can and will turn it up at the defensive end on a whim might get put to the test this season. LeBron James, fully engaged, remains an All-Defensive team staple, but he’s not getting any younger and Cleveland’s roster demands more of him at the offensive end – at least on nights when Cleveland doesn’t get up by 20-plus points before halftime – where he assumes point guard duties with Kyrie Irving no longer around to take his turn dominating the ball. But the Cavs were trending in the right direction coming into Little Caesars Arena. Even though they still rank 30th in defense, during their four-game winning streak Cleveland had registered as the No. 10-ranked defense. Monday’s game probably didn’t provide much of a barometer for Cleveland’s defense as the Pistons fell behind by too much, too soon – mostly because of Cleveland’s shooting but also because of 11 first-half turnovers, the bulk of them unforced. Cleveland’s offense, meanwhile, remains elite. It ranks fourth for the season and had scored 110 points or more in six of the previous seven games before cracking that threshold with three minutes left in their win over the Pistons.
3-BACK-TO-BACK LEGS – Avery Bradley got rolling early, draining his first four shots, one a triple, to keep the Pistons in contact with Cleveland despite LeBron James’ explosive entrée to Little Caesars Arena. He then missed his next five shots, pretty much every one of them coming up short, before calling it a night. In NBA parlance, this one is what’s known as a scheduling loss. The Pistons played at Minnesota and came back from 11 down in the fourth quarter to win Sunday night and got back home in the wee hours Monday morning. Cleveland, meanwhile, had been off since a Friday win and had spent the past two nights in Detroit, with several Cavs attending the Jaz-Z concert at LCA on Saturday and practicing at Cass Tech on Sunday. The Pistons now get three days off before they’ll play again on Friday at Oklahoma City as they continue a stretch that sees them play nine of 11 games away from home. The loss to the Cavs was the first this season for the Pistons on the second night of a back to back after winning the first three such games.