Game tips at 7:30pm EST.
Utah Jazz: 19-19 (8-15 road)
Detroit Pistons: 14-23 (10-9 home)
The Pistons are playing good basketball. Statistically speaking at the team level, really, really good basketball.
The Pistons have won 7 of their last 9, which is certainly impressive. But what's more impressive is how ... err, impressive they've been while winning. The Pistons are averaging 101.3 points per game while giving up 94.4. For those who don't feel like doing math, that's a point differential of 6.9 (!!!).
For some context, only the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, and San Antonio Spurs have better point differentials on the season. No one in the Eastern Conference has put up those kinds of numbers on the season.
Yeah, the Pistons have had some easy games, and yeah, that level of play isn't sustainable for 82 games, blah, blah, blah. It has been hella fun to watch, and I'm going to enjoy it as long as it lasts. It's been a rough few years, but over the last 9 games, we've gotten tastes of the potential of this young core.
Lately, or as it feels to me for eternity past, the Jazz have dominated the Pistons. Bad, good, or mediocre - it hasn't mattered. Utah has just outplayed Detroit almost every time the two teams meet.
At the moment, the Jazz might be the most average team in the league, and as a result, they find themselves running in place on the mediocrity treadmill. The Jazz are 19-19 backed up by an efficiency differential of -0.5. The Simple Rating System over at Basketball-Reference.com ranks the Jazz as 15th out of 30th in the league.
Turning to the roster, it's not all that hard to see why.
Paul Milsap has been a long-time DBB favorite and leads the Jazz in overall productivity by the advanced metrics. Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter round out better-than-average but not dominant frontcourt. Jefferson and Milsap can do a lot of damage. They're big, they rebound, and they can score inside. And Favors and Kanter are capable backups. This game will most likely be won by the team whose frontcourt plays the strongest.
The perimiter, strangely enough, might be where the Pistons have the advantage, and oddly enough, that might be because of depth. Yep, backcourt depth could be a factor in the Pistons favor for the first time since ... 1990? Jamaal Tinsley (who is still in the league.. I know, right?), Randy Foye, Gordon Hayward are likely to get the bulk of the minutes at 1, 2, and 3, and will likely see more time than normal due to injuries to Marvin Williams and Mo Williams. Spot minutes will likely go to Earl Watson and Alec Burks.
Keys to the Game
Run, Pistons, run: Both teams are on the second half of a back-to-back, but the Jazz are missing two key rotation players. Especially on the perimeter, the Jazz are thin. Rebound, outlet, and go.
Clean the defensive glass: The Pistons won't be able to exploit the Jazz's lack of depth on the perimeter if they don't finish defensive possessions with a rebound. The Jazz, however, are one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the league, and understandably so. Which is, of course a natural lead into...
Bull Moose Party, please: The Jazz' frontcourt is good. Not great, but good. However, the Pistons should have the tools to exploit its weaknesses. Al Jefferson isn't a great defender. Feed the Moose early and often, and let the Moose attack off the dribble. Putting Jefferson on the bench in foul trouble early would go a long way toward a victory. The second unit poses even bigger problems for the Jazz, frankly. Favors has shown plenty of promise, but Charlie V is a really tough cover for him. And if Jefferson does get into foul trouble, Andre Drummond should be able to have a field day on the glass and on hard cuts to the basket.
Question of the Game
Thinking about these two teams objectively, let's play would you rather...
Would you rather be the Pistons, with several promising young players and financial flexibility. Or, would you rather be the Jazz, who have the better roster at the moment, and have about the same amount of financial flexibility, but don't have nearly as much youth potential?