Drummond, Smith, KCP give Pistons solid matchups vs. Heat big 3
It’s probably not a fair fight no matter who guards LeBron James, but Josh Smith’s length and athleticism gives him the tools to mitigate the damage the four-time MVP inflicts. It’s a similar story for rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard against Dwyane Wade, who’ll also get a heavy dose of Rodney Stuckey, who also has the type of size and strength that can make it tough for Wade to get to his sweet spots consistently. Chris Bosh’s quickness and shooting range gives him a decided edge over most centers, but not so much against Andre Drummond.
Maurice Cheeks cautions that it goes far beyond individual physical matchups, of course.
“These guys are seasoned, been around, won a couple of championships in a row,” he said after the Pistons practiced Monday at American Airlines Arena. “Size-wise, yeah. We just have to try to play at the level that they play at, because these are great players and they play hard. When you get great players that play hard, your recipe is championships that’s what they have.”
Smith goes way back with James, to their AAU days, and he’s played in the same conference with James for all nine of his NBA seasons. He said there’s nobody who combines the power and speed James possesses.
“He’s a great player,” Smith said, “but if you aren’t excited about the challenge of playing against a player like him, I mean, why are you here?”
Smith said games when he’s matched against physical power forwards like Indiana’s David West leave him more physically drained, but there might not be anything quite like the psychological toll that comes with bearing the possession-by-possession responsibility of guarding the multitalented James.
Cheeks said that whether James plays small forward, where he starts games for Miami, or power forward, where he often finishes them, Smith is likely the choice to guard him.
“Josh is probably the best matchup we have for him,” Cheeks said. “If there’s actually a matchup for him, he’s probably the matchup. He’s long, he’s physical.”
Cheeks had a few athletic matchup options for James at his last coaching stop in Philadelphia, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young. If there are times when Cheeks chooses to give Smith a break, Kyle Singler will likely get his crack at guarding James. But Cheeks said that with a player of James’ stature, there’s not usually anyone equipped to hold their own consistently.
“When it’s a player of his caliber, he sees everybody almost the same,” Cheeks said. “I’m sure there are some people who defend him better than others, but he’s seem them all. Great players, they see their game. If you’re really a great defender, then you both them, but great players like that, it’s more their game than it is a defender’s game.”
Because the Heat so often go small with James surrounded by floor-spacing shooters like Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis, Cheeks knows he might have to make a decision at some point in Tuesday’s game whether to respond or stick with his big frontcourt of Drummond, Smith and Greg Monroe.
“They have a lot of small lineups,” Cheeks said. “Our big lineup has to be beneficial for us, otherwise it won’t make sense.”