Starting Five: Trail Blazers at Detroit Pistons, 4:30 p.m.


This afternoon, the Trail Blazers play inside the Palace of Auburn Hills (which is nowhere near to Detroit, by the way). That photo of Jason Maxiell stuffing Wesley Matthews pretty much defined the very odd game from last year. Pistons won 94-91 as most of their starters finished with negative plus/minus numbers but the team flourished whenever the four reserves filled in (Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko, Damian Wilkins and Walker Russell). Maxiell was clutch with seven points, seven rebounds and was +15 during his 25 minutes, 34 seconds on the court.

Now, let’s flash ahead to the present and today’s Starting Five

1. Aldridge back?
The Blazers played in Brooklyn on Sunday without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the game with a sore back. Through three quarters, the team survived without him but when Brooklyn, expectedly, turned it up in the fourth quarter that’s when the Blazers could have used Aldridge’s team-leading 19.7 points per game. After nearly four minutes had expired in the fourth quarter, Brooklyn broke the 74-74 tie with a C.J. Watson 3-pointer then scored the next six points to bury the Blazers under their biggest deficit of the game.

Now, according to the Oregonian’s Joe Freeman, it looks like Aldridge and his 19.7 ppg will return to the Blazers’ lineup today.

2. Leave it to the starters
If Aldridge will indeed return to the starting rotation, then the Blazers have a clear advantage here. There’s been much written about the under-performing defense and last-ranked Blazer bench, but the consistent high mark of the season has been the play of Portland’s starters. The Aldridge-Hickson-Batum-Matthews-Lillard core ranks No. 1 among starting lineups with 86.2 points per game. So although four of the guys (excluding Hickson) are playing substantial minutes, they’re making the most of their time on the court and scoring buckets. Unlike Detroit’s starters.

The Pistons rank 23rd out of 30 NBA teams in starters’ scoring (59.4 ppg). Despite there being some stability in the lineup with four players starting all 14 games and Rodney Stuckey and Kyle Singler splitting time at the shooting guard postion, the Pistons haven’t been able to find something that works in this 3-11 season. And according to my good friend Greg, a native Detrioter, I shouldn’t even call them the Pistons anymore but rather “The Auburn Hills Parts and Labor Charges.”

If the Blazers can just show up five strong, with solid performances from their starters, there should be no problem with this Parts and Labor crew.

3. Hard Luck Joel
And here’s another Aldridge-centric note in the “Starting Five,” because with L.A. filling his old role, that means there’s less time to feel sorry for rookie forward/center Joel Freeland.

Whenever the Blazers’ starting bigs haven’t been in the starting lineup, coach Terry Stotts has had to plug in the gap with all of his frontline guys. So scattered through a stretch of DNPs, Freeland has two games in which he’s played more minutes than ever: last Wednesday in Phoenix he logged a season-high 16 minutes with Hickson out and on Sunday, he played another 13 in the absence of Aldridge. Both appearances have revealed how challenging it is for Freeland to adjust to the American game.

Freeland, a Briton who has played the last six years in Spain, has made only one field goal in 18 attempts. He has limited leaping ability and reacts a step slower than his defender. Freeland appears more comfortable on the perimeter than he does with a traditional post-up or inside game. Twice on Sunday, Jared Jeffries fed Freeland with interior passes and he could not finish either one near the rim. Although the Blazers appear to have the most depth in its frontcourt, until Freeland feels more comfortable and rookie Meyers Leonard shows more consistency, Aldridge stands as the one true offensive option among the Blazers’ big.

How is the aforementioned Kyle Singler not the best basketball shooter in the world?! Or at least the highest-paid children’s birthday party entertainer ever… with video reels like this one he did at Duke, there’s no way Singler shouldn’t be more popular. Now, Singler’s back at it, dropping crazy trick shots around Detroit. The cheesy “BUCKETS!” catchline aside, this stuff is pretty dope.

5. That’s What He Said
Trouble brewing in Detroit? Seems so. On Friday, Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press quoted Will Bynum in what seemed to be the player questioning coach Frank Lawrence’s substitution patterns. Ellis concluded the story with this:

Frank is in a tough spot in his second year with the team. Despite a 2-10 record, the season is still young and a coach needs to project patience. That’s probably why you see his reluctance to make wholesale changes.
But a coach needs to be flexible, and if something is obviously not working, change needs to be made, even at the risk of an appearance of panic.
After losing to an obviously inferior team (at least talent-wise) twice in five days, it’s quite apparent more is wrong than the lack of energy which saw the Pistons surrender a 21-0 Magic run to start the second half Wednesday.
“Energy ain’t the only thing,” Tayshaun Prince said. “That isn’t my decision, but we need to figure out some things to do when teams are making runs to get us a good opportunity at the rim or the foul line.”

Prediction: The Pistons are also coming off a loss in New York, they may have the home comforts on their side but the team has an awful lot of problems to work through. The Blazers have a superior starting lineup, a rested Aldridge and no evident dysfunction plaguing them as the Pistons. Should make for a Blazers’ win.

Blazers 104, Pistons 95

Tipoff: 4:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, 1190 AM/102.3 KEX

Officials of the night: Bill Spooner, Bennie Adams, Kevin Cutler.

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