Pistons seek first road win against shorthanded Heat
One team has the worst record in the NBA, and the other squad barely has the minimum eight players required by the league to play a game.
That, in a nutshell, is the matchup for Saturday night, when the Detroit Pistons are set to visit the Miami Heat.
The Pistons, just 2-9 overall and 0-4 on the road, have at least one positive distinction: They have not lost a single player this season due to COVID-19 or contact tracing. Friday's game was postponed, but that's because Detroit's would-be opponent, the Washington Wizards, did not have enough players.
Meanwhile, Miami, which made it to the NBA Finals last year before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, has dropped two straight games, owns a sub-.500 record (4-6) and is facing a myriad of personnel problems.
For starters, Meyers Leonard has been out the past week due to a shoulder injury. In addition, eight players have missed Miami's past two games due to COVID concerns: starters Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo as well as reserves Goran Dragic, Avery Bradley, Kendrick Nunn, Maurice Harkless, Udonis Haslem and KZ Okpala.
Then, in Miami's 125-108 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, Heat starting guard Tyler Herro played 32 minutes before exiting due to back spasms.
That left the Heat with just one full-time starter -- Duncan Robinson -- healthy and available, a massive concern for their prospective matchup against Detroit.
Of the remaining players Miami is expected to have ready to face Detroit, the list includes veterans such as Andre Iguodala and Kelly Olynyk. But the Heat are also going with some highly inexperienced players such as Chris Silva (49 career NBA games), Gabe Vincent (12 games), Precious Achiuwa (10) and Max Strus (five).
Not that any of this seems to bother Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who said "no excuses" is a team mantra.
"This is who we are (right now)," Spoelstra said. "We have to develop competitive habits."
The Pistons, meanwhile, feature three first-round rookies in their rotation as they begin yet another rebuild: Killian Hayes (4.6 points, 3.6 assists per game), Saddiq Bey (10.5 points) and Isaiah Stewart (4.2 points, 5.1 rebounds).
Bey is shooting 43.1 percent on 3-pointers, continuing his reputation as a stellar marksman from his collegiate days at Villanova. Stewart, despite playing just 16.9 minutes per game, is second on the Pistons in offensive rebound average (2.9). And Hayes, who will not be available against Miami, had started seven straight games before going down with a hip injury.
"Our record doesn't really show that we're progressing," said Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, hired by Detroit in June. "But I like the progress we're making. Guys are competing."
The biggest parts of the Pistons' engine are Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. Grant leads the team in scoring (24.8), and Rose tops the Pistons in assists (5.4) while also providing 13.9 points off the bench, although he is day-to-day due to a knee injury. Griffin is averaging 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.
"What he's doing," Weaver said of Grant, his first big free-agent signee, "may be a surprise to some, but not to me."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 15, 2021