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Pistons - Mavericks Game Preview

Coverage at 6:00 pm ET

Dallas: 6-3 (3-2 road)
Margin: +7.2

Detroit: 5-4 (3-1 home)
Margin: +2.6

Oppo research

Rather quietly, Dallas is building themselves an impressive season. While teams like LA, Phoenix, Portland and Denver may have the league's attention, Dallas has the talent, the coaching and the experience to upset any of the West's best come May. Going in to tonight's game in Detroit, they're the league's 6th best defense, it's 2nd best rebounder and the current leader of the Southwest Division.

Dirk Nowitzki is having a career best season per minute, averaging 26 points, 9 rebounds, a steal, 2 blocks and a trey per game. If he keeps that up, he'll record better numbers at age 31 than he did in his MVP season. Beyond Dirk, Jason Terry is once again making the case for a 6th man of the year award, Shawn Marion continues to do, well, everything, and Dampier is having his best season with Dallas since joining them in 2004.

In short, not only does Dallas have the talent, they've shown the will to get things done. Its most important players are playing at their absolute best. When that happens, Dallas is a very hard team to beat.

The Drama:

For the 3rd night in a row, the Pistons will play against a former coach. So far, we've bested Larry Brown and Flip Saunders-- can we do the same to Rick Carlisle?

Also, Pistons fans get a shot at the Jason Kidd drinking game. Every time Kidd does his ridiculous free-throw kiss-the-sky ritual, throw a full, unopened beer at the TV.

Keys for Detroit:

Crash the boards: I have the feeling I can just cut and paste this one for the remainder of the season. Dallas is the league's 2nd best rebounder, so this is even more important tonight.

Charlie Villanueva: This one's on you, Charlie. Tonight's matchup includes (arguably) the league's best stretch four-- and he's putting up career numbers. Critics of your defense are going to be playing close attention to how you handle him. On the offensive end, life will be difficult with Dirk and Damp in the post, so move well without the ball and choose your shots wisely.

The Rookies: We're going to need to lean on the rookies a bit more than usual tonight, due to long minutes on our starters last night in Washington. 45 minutes to Stuckey, 42 to Gordon and 38 to Villanueva will lead to heavy legs tonight.

Bonus to Kuester: Might tonight be a good night to temporarily change the starting lineup? Starting Brown on Dampier, Wallace on Dirk and Charlie on Marion might give Detroit a defensive edge on Dallas.

Question of the Game:

Detroit has won three-in-a-row going into tonight's game at the Palace. After tonight, Detroit begins a four-game road trip against the Lakers, the Blazers, the Jazz and the Suns. Collectively, those teams have a 27-13 record. Can the Pistons continue their win streak and continue building the confidence necessary to compete on this ugly road trip?