Rookie C Isaiah Stewart and Pistons host Cavaliers

NBA Basketball

The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t see much of Detroit Pistons rookie center Isaiah Stewart in the first two meetings between the Central Division teams this season.

There’s a very good chance that will change dramatically in the series finale in Detroit on Monday.

Stewart didn’t play in the first meeting at Detroit on Dec. 26, a 128-119 double-overtime victory for Cleveland. The Cavaliers also won on their home floor, 122-107, on Jan. 27 when Stewart played 15 scoreless minutes.

Lately, Stewart has been making a strong push for the NBA’s All-Rookie team.

The 19-year-old scored 15 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and blocked two shots in a victory over Oklahoma City on Friday. During a 121-100 loss to Washington on Saturday, Stewart supplied a season-high 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.

“Love the way he plays,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “Love his energy. He sets the tone when he’s in the game. He makes a difference on both ends — and definitely in the rebounding area.”

The Pistons acquired the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft to select Stewart, who played one season at Washington. He is averaging 7.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 55 games (five starts).

They never have to worry about Stewart bringing energy and intensity every game.

“Just trying to be great on both ends of the floor,” Stewart said. “Growth-wise, I try to get better at everything. I watch film, work on my game and I just try to let the rest take care of itself.”

Casey was disappointed by how easily the Wizards punctured Detroit’s defense. Washington racked up 74 points in the paint and never trailed.

“We didn’t have great rim protection, and they got their way too easy,” Casey said. “I don’t get as excited about that as making sure we keep the guy in front of us and not let them get in there.”

The Pistons have dropped four of their last five games. So have the Cavaliers, including a 106-96 defeat at Chicago on Saturday.

The loss to the Bulls began a stretch where Cleveland plays five of six games on the road.

The Cavaliers are on the fringes of the expanded playoff race, trying to get one of the 10 Eastern Conference seeds.

They fell behind by 16 points in the second half to the Bulls, and a late run came up short.

“We’re all in this cluster. Every game matters right now. They’re in the cluster with us,” guard Darius Garland said of the Bulls. “They’ve got the 10th seed right now; they’ve got the target on their back. We wanted this game really bad.”

The Cavaliers have 16 games remaining, and veteran power forward Kevin Love hopes that his teammates learned something from Saturday’s uneven effort. They’ll get another shot at the Bulls on Wednesday. First, they need to take care of business against the team at the bottom of the conference.

“I want it to be painful for them because a lost opportunity like that, it should hurt,” Love said. “You want it to be learning experiences, and sometimes those learning experiences can pull on your heart and be very painful. It’s a major factor for growth.”

–Field Level Media

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