Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham
Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (2) drives as Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)


Mike Shara

Detroit Pistons at Cleveland Cavaliers
Saturday March 19, 2022 | 8 pm  on Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Detroit
Rocket Mortgage Field House Cleveland, Ohio
POINT SPREAD: Cleveland -6.5 (SugarHouse)
OVER/UNDER: 216.5 (BetMGM)
MONEYLINE: Detroit +210 (PointsBet)

March Madness is understandably getting a lot of the attention in the basketball world right now and tonight’s slate of NBA games is somewhat underwhelming – almost as though the pros deliberately tanked their offerings today in order to cede the national spotlight to the college kids. I know, it’s probably more of a coincidence – pro sports leagues don’t generally ever cede attention or money for any reason, do they? Even with today’s relative punt of a schedule, this game is an interesting one for NBA fans, especially when it features two of the top contenders for this year’s Rookie of the Year Award facing off in a game that will be more interesting than you might expect.

Despite all the attention teams like the Lakers and Clippers have gotten regarding their injury woes this season, the Cavs have certainly been among the most unlucky with regards to losing players to injury. These weren’t just week-long Covid absences, either – these were season-ending injuries to really good players. The fact that Cleveland (a team no one was talking about in the preseason) remains 10 games over .500 despite losing Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio for the season while also currently missing Rajon Rondo and first-time All-Star Jarret Allen is a tribute to Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff, G.M. Koby Altman and rookie phenom Evan Mobley – who has assimilated himself into the NBA game at a high level almost immediately and never looked back. Despite a revolving door at point guard, they have maintained their status as a rugged Top 5 defensive team and if the season ended today, they would finish as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, avoiding a trip to the play-in tournament. They are particularly stingy at home, where the over/under total has gone over in just 8 of their 31 home games. They have, however, already dropped two of their three meetings against the Pistons, though both of those games were in Detroit.

There’s been a pretty unwatchable version of basketball happening in Detroit over the last decade or so. For years the Pistons mortgaged their future under former GM/Head Coach Stan Van Gundy (and previous GM Joe Dumars, too) weighing themselves down with the bloated contracts of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Reggie Jackson. Like bees in amber, they were stuck in the dreaded netherworld that meant they were never drafting in the lottery, nor were they having any postseason success. Detroit has not won a single playoff game since 2008. Yes, you read that correctly. What a horrible stretch for such a legendary franchise. Luckily new GM Troy Weaver has completely revamped the roster and though the Pistons will certainly be a lottery team again this year, they are far more interesting to watch and though they are also still lacking enough talent to win regularly, they have young players worth watching who play hard for Head Coach Dwayne Casey. 2021’s first overall pick Cade Cunningham has been nothing short of dynamite since a slow start due to an ankle injury, second-year stud Saddiq Bey just threw down 51 points two nights ago against Orlando and the recently acquired Marvin Bagley Jr. (the second overall pick of the 2018 Draft) has played much better since coming to Motown, averaging 17 and 9 over his last 7 games. They’ve also been winning more lately (5 of their last 10).  With lots of salary cap room available this offseason and another high draft pick coming in June, their future is starting to take shape favorably for the first time in a long time. 

That future ain’t here yet, though…right? Don’t be so sure. Several factors make the Pistons a tough matchup tonight – Cade Cunningham should return after a two-game bout with a non-Covid illness and the Cavs are missing two key rotation players (Allen and Rondo). Cunningham and Co. are still the third-worst scoring team in the NBA facing up against the fourth-best defensive squad in the league and their 19-51 record is actually better than the numbers say it should be. However, Cleveland played a tough game last night against Denver, winning in overtime against Denver but Lauri Markkanen and Darius Garland both played over 42 minutes while the Pistons had a night off. The Cavs have come back to earth the last little while, winning just 2 of their last 5 and both of those games were in overtime. The Pistons are not just mailing it in for draft positioning at this point. They are trying to win games. I don’t think Cleveland will cover a 6.5 point spread and I’m not entirely confident they even win the game outright.

(SEMI-BOLD) PREDICTION: Cleveland 100, Detroit 98

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