Tonight's game will be missing two familiar faces.

Pistons-Knicks: Toney, Hit Me with an Encore

Well, the Knicks said all the right things about defense and communication, and then went out and drained 20 three-pointers.  Is it makeup on a pig?  Is it whipped cream on cabbage?  Is it LeBron James on the Cavaliers?  We don’t have to wait long to find out!

If the Knicks are to prolong this latest era of good feelings, they’ll likely have to do it without Chauncey Billups, who according to the Detroit Free Press will miss the game to attend his grandfather’s funeral. 

Projected Starters:

PG – Rodney Stuckey: Wednesday against Toronto: 27 minutes, 0-1 FG, 14 assists.  Looks like somebody’s trying to shed a reputation.  Stuckey didn’t start the game but figures to move back into the first five with Rip Hamilton missing tonight’s game with the passing of his grandfather.  “I know I’m the starting point guard, but it is what it is,” Stuckey said of not starting.

SG – Tracy McGrady: Whenever his name comes up I feel compelled to mention his passing, which was such a pleasant surprise in his short stay with the Knicks.  I just never noticed how well he sees the floor, and no number of knee surgeries is ever going to take that away.

SF – Tayshaun Prince: 17 PPG in March, with just one made three-pointer all month.

PF – Greg Monroe: Stats rising every month, and if he keeps up this passing he’ll soon be challenging Horford and Gasol as the league’s best passing big man.

C – Ben Wallace: Smaller and strong, the kind of defender Amar’e has had trouble against in isolation.  (I feel like I say that all the time, but Wallace is a prime example.)  Also an excellent jump-shooter and dribble penetrator.

…Just keeping you on your toes.

So Really I’m Just Guessing: Pistons coach John Kuester has used 18 different starting lineups this season, and with Hamilton out I’m assuming Stuckey finds his way back in.  Kuester has been pretty volatile with his lineup and rotations all year – we all heard about Hamilton’s forced exodus when he appeared to certain to be involved in the Carmelo, but Kuester has recently been dogged by repeated rumblings that he’s a poor communicator and his players are unclear about their roles.  Kuester seems irked by the notion, but given the Hamilton row and now Stuckey’s insistence he’s the starting point guard after coming off the bench, it seems “communication issues” might be putting it mildly.

There are 12 Pistons who have seen steady minutes this year, with two others having missed the whole year due to injury.  Basically, everybody plays but DaJuan Summers.  Sucks to be him, I guess.

Knicks Rotation: Assuming Billups is out of the lineup tonight, Toney Douglas will look continue his three-point apocalypse in a starting role.  To me, if Douglas plays well again tonight, we can officially ask the question, “Why does this team look as good or better with Douglas at the helm?”  My short answer for the time being: Because Billups is having trouble overpowering smaller guards, who are locking him up.  And as anyone who has watched Billups in Denver or at the World Championships knows, he’s getting his 10-12 shots up, come hell or high water.  If his defender is playing in his shirt, well, that’s just too damn bad.  He is Mr. Big Shot, you know.

Scoreboard Watching: The 76ers are in Sacramento this evening, while the Hawks host the Heat.  You may have rooting interests based on their effect on the Knicks’ playoff seeding.  Maybe you think Orlando is in disarray.   Perhaps you’re encouraged by the Knicks’ two impressive victories over Chicago. 

Or maybe you don’t care at all.  Frankly, I stopped having an opinion on our first-round playoff matchup a long time ago – this team has proven it can beat anybody and lose to anybody in the same breath, often regardless of our preconceived matchup advantages.  There’s a certain pride in getting the highest possible seed, especially since this team went underrated by the drive-by national media’s preseason predictions.  But I’m not pining to face any one team.

Defending with the Stars: On paper the Pistons have a couple of strong defenders at the Knick stars’ positions in Wallace and Prince, but both are a step slower this year.  Wallace has regressed to the mean after a resurgent 2009-10 and his blocks per game are at a career low, while Prince’s back problems are beginning to wear on him once again.  Tayshaun hadn’t missed a game this season until a few weeks ago, when a flare-up in his back shelved him for four games.  Again, this should be one of those nights where Amar’e and Melo have to suck it up and keep the ball moving, but I suspect we’ll find out early on if either Wallace or Prince is vulnerable in isolation defense.

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