Lakers vs. Pistons: What to watch

As I mentioned in the Rapid Reaction from Friday's loss to the Clippers, I'm not losing my head over this 0-3 start. However, if the Lakers remain winless after a date with the Detroit Pistons, a team that probably won't make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, I will in fact panic. Not in response to the loss itself, but rather because the streets of L.A. will be filled with fans who've lost their minds. They'll inevitably turn on each other, which will quickly transform L.A. into an apocalyptic free-for-all. And I care too much about my loved ones to expose them to such madness. Thus, I'll pack up the fam and the cat, and we'll head to an undisclosed location, preferably at higher ground. (Big Bear sounds safe enough.)

So those are the additional stakes in play as the Lakers try to get off the schneid: My ability to continue living in Los Angeles County.

For more perspective on the Pistons, I sent five questions to Patrick Hayes, who covers the team for the TrueHoop network's Piston Powered blog.

Land O' Lakers: With the season now underway, what have been your biggest takeaways of the Pistons? Do you think they have any ability to surprise this year?

Patrick Hayes: The Pistons appear to be taking advantage of all of the youth on the roster by looking to run more on offense after being one of the slowest-paced teams in the league the past three seasons or so. In the season opener against Houston, although the defense was bad, the Pistons did come up with 12 steals, which helped their transition game. Most of the players on the roster will never be confused with good defenders, but they do have a lot of length, even at the guard position, and quickness, so being disruptive in passing lanes could be a new skill displayed this season.

As far as ability to surprise, I'm not convinced. I think they'll be improved and more fun to watch, but I don't necessarily think that will automatically lead to more wins. They'll be in the conversation, along with three or four other teams, for the final playoff spot in the East if everything goes perfectly. My guess, though, is 30-35 wins.

LOL: How has Andre Drummond looked, and how ready is he to make an impact as a rookie?

PH: If you asked that after the preseason, I would've said definitively that he'll be a rotation player and get 20-25 minutes per game as a rookie. He was active in the preseason, a terror on the offensive glass and the rim protector the Pistons have lacked since Ben Wallace was in his prime. But against Houston in the opener, he played only 13 minutes, he was passive and the knock on him from his UConn days -- that he often disappeared for stretches -- showed up for the first time as a Piston. Drummond is incredibly talented and I'm convinced he'll help the Pistons more this season than they anticipated when they drafted him. But I also think he'll have a tendency to have quite a few bad or nonexistent performances mixed in with some brilliant ones.

LOL: Greg Monroe has steadily improved into one of the league's most underrated players. How has he looked to begin the season, and how do you expect him to fare matched against Dwight Howard?

PH: Interestingly, since they're playing the Lakers, Greg Monroe looks more and more like Pau Gasol as his offensive game evolves. He's a good high-post passer, he's great at finding cutters, he's crafty around the basket finishing against more athletic players and he can finish fluidly with both hands. This season, he seems to have expanded his range and looks really comfortable taking and making jumpers from 15-18 feet.

Defensively, he's still struggling. He has a couple of main issues. He doesn't hold position well at all (Omer Asik of the Rockets basically camped under the basket all game and Monroe couldn't move him) and he's not an explosive leaper, so he doesn't block shots. Both of those things lead me to believe he'll struggle against either Howard or Gasol, depending on who he's matched up with. (My guess is Howard will see a steady diet of Jason Maxiell, who is much shorter than Monroe but also much stronger.) The one thing Monroe is getting better at defensively is using his quick hands to slap the ball away from big men as they go up for shots, a la Karl Malone. He had three steals against the Rockets and averages 1.2 per game for his career.

LOL: Is there a strength, whether collectively or from the standpoint of an individual matchup, that could serve the Pistons well specifically against the Lakers?

PH: There really isn't an individual matchup in this game that I'd consider in the Pistons' favor, but I will intently be watching the backcourt. Brandon Knight has been much more assertive driving to the basket and he looks to be a better finisher. And Rodney Stuckey had arguably the best game and moment of his career last season against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that. Of course, it's just as likely Bryant also remembers that and will score 60 on Stuckey.

LOL: So what's your prediction?

PH: The Lakers' offense will look as good as it has this season. The Pistons will play hard, and their improved second unit will bring a lot of energy into the game when they're on the court, but Los Angeles will ultimately win pretty easily.