Found February 21, 2012 on Waiting For Next Year:

Samardo punished the Pistons frontcourt last game

Welcome back Manny Harris!

Forget all the other story lines, the big news in this game is the return of Manny Harris to the wine and gold, right? Right?

Basketball is funny. I don’t know why, but there always marginal players out there who become my guys. They come in different shapes and sizes, but there are always certain players that catch my eye and capture my basketball heart.

Manny Harris is one of those players. I’m well aware of his limitations and I know how measured his upside is. I know he’s a Wolverine and I’m a Buckeye. But I like the guy. I like his story, I like his game, I like his attitude, I like his heart. I’m glad to see him back in uniform tonight, and I hope he can have his own Jeremy Lin type story. Well, ok, let’s set the bar a little lower. I’d be pretty happy just to see Manny get some minutes and prove effective enough to earn a permanent roster spot.

So with that out of the way, let’s get down to business discussing tonight’s game between the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-17, 9th in the East) and the Detroit Pistons (11-22, 11th in the East) at the Q.

If we look back at December 28, 2011, the Cleveland Cavaliers were getting ready to play their 2nd game of the season. They opened the year at home, played horrible basketball against the Toronto Raptors, and rookie Kyrie Irving had a forgettable, if not downright horrific, debut. Irving went 2-12 from the field (1-5 from three) for 6 points in his debut.

That next game in Detroit, there was trepidation among the Cavaliers faithful. Had we been wrong about Kyrie? Are the Cavaliers due to give us another season like last year? Is this sadness ever going to go away?

That game against the Pistons, December 28, 2011, was perhaps the most important game of this young season. We all needed to see how Irving would bounce back. We needed to see what the Cavaliers were really made of.

Kyrie answered the call. He shot 5-9 from the field and 4-4 from the FT line, scoring 14 points with 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals against 3 turnovers in under 20 minutes of playing time as the Cavaliers routed the Pistons 105-89. It wasn’t a massive box score stuffing night, but it was a coolly effective game and it showed us a glimpse of what makes Kyrie Irving the player that he is. Tough minded, confident, and never doubting his skills. He did what he needed to do that night to settle down Cavs fans and give us reason to exhale.

So now we fast forward to the present, and the Cavaliers are sitting in 9th place in the East, well within a playoff hunt, and showing signs either way of a growing team. The future is looking pretty bright.

The Pistons, too, are seeing the light these days. After starting 4-20 this season, Lawrence Frank has pulled a rabbit out of his hat and is turning the Pistons around right in front of our eyes. After inserting Jason Maxiell into the starting lineup for Jonas Jerebko, the Pistons have gone 7-3, winning seven of their last nine overall.

Furthermore, Brandon Knight has worked his way into the starting lineup and this has freed Brandon Stuckey from worrying about distributing too much. Stuckey has become the scoring guard we all thought he was capable of being and Knight has been a solid spark at the point for the Pistons.

Frank’s full starting lineup will feature Knight, Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Maxiell, and Greg Monroe. Suddenly the Pistons starting lineup has transformed into something worth fearing, a dynamic mix of electric scorers in the backcourt with hard working, physical players in the frontcourt. And Tayshaun Prince, for whatever that’s worth.

Charlie Villanueva is out for the Pistons with an ankle injury while Anderson Varejao and Anthony Parker are out for the Cavaliers. Daniel Gibson will be active and will dress for the game, according to Byron Scott, but no decision has been made yet as to whether or not he will play. Don’t be surprised, then, to see Manny Harris log some minutes at SG for the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers frontcourt dominated the Pistons last game, with Varejao, Antawn Jamison, Samardo Samuels, and Tristan Thompson all scoring double digits. With Varejao out and Maxiell playing so well, along with the fact Samardo has never matched that effort since, that kind of feat will be tougher this time around.

For the Cavaliers on offense, Alonzo Gee starting at SG has a pretty big size and strength advantage over Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey is not small, but in terms of body type and playing style, Gee has a physical advantage in this game. We’ll see if the Cavaliers offense can draw up some situations to take advantage of this. Brandon Knight is sure to play this game head to head with Kyrie Irving as a personal challenge. I expect this to be a great matchup to watch, similar to the matchup with Isaiah Thomas the other night against Sacramento. Tristan Thompson, coming off a real bounce back game, needs to have another huge night off the bench for the Cavaliers.

Defensively, the Cavaliers may struggle to match up with the speed of the Pistons backcourt. Furthermore, Anderson Varejao was able to keep Greg Monroe in check last game, but Semih Erden may not find the task so simple. With the All-Star Break coming this weekend, both teams will view this as a must-win momentum gaining game. I expect to see a great matchup and a great game with both teams going hard at one another. Hopefully the Cavaliers can gut out another nice win over their divisional rivals from that state up north.

_____

Photo Credit: Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images

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