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Bobcats at Pistons: The playoff race starts tonight

It turns out there's a silver lining to Snowmageddon 2011: the Pistons are giving away free tickets. From an email sent by the team earlier today:

PNC Bank, the presenting sponsor of the Detroit Pistons, is offering free 200-level tickets to tonight’s Detroit Pistons vs. Charlotte Bobcats at 7:30 pm at The Palace of Auburn Hills as a “Snow Day” option to honor the area’s hearty fans who would like to brave the elements.

The tickets are available now through game time at The Palace Box Office, limited to four tickets per person, while supplies last OR fans can call to reserve their tickets in advance by calling 248.377.0100.

So at least there's that -- hopefully some DBBers are able to take advantage.

And now back to our regularly scheduled preview ...

Game Tips: 7:30 PM ET

Detroit Pistons: 17-31 (12-10 home)
Charlotte Bobcats: 20-27 (8-16 road)

The Situation: If the Pistons are going to make a run for the playoffs -- and the odd decision to take Tayshaun Prince off the block suggests that's the goal -- it starts tonight. Mired in a three-game losing streak and sitting 11th in the East, the Pistons can't afford to drop a winnable game against the visiting Bobcats, who currently hold down the "coveted" No. 8 spot.

The Pistons are still shorthanded entering the game -- Rodney Stuckey has already ruled out returning tonight -- but at least Ben Gordon is finally starting to resemble the player the Pistons thought they signed 19 months ago, averaging 28 points on 54 percent shooting while starting the last two games.

(Mildly interesting but largely irrelevant bonus fact, courtesy of STATS, LLC: "Gordon has averaged 22.7 points in 10 games against the Bobcats since 2007-08 -- his best against any Eastern opponent.")

Also, Ben Wallace is expected to return. Rip Hamilton is technically listed as "probable" tonight despite recovering from the flu, but c'mon.

The Pistons and Bobcats have split their two games this season, each winning at home. If you can remember all the way back to Nov. 6, Detroit's 97-90 win over Charlotte was their first of the season. And funny enough, Charlotte's 105-100 win over Detroit on Dec. 27 was their first under Paul Silas. The symmetry is beautiful, no?

So what "first" will happen tonight? How about the first victory of a long win streak that propels the Pistons back to relevancy? Looking ahead, the Pistons have a slate of winnable games on the horizon -- only four of their nine remaining games before the All-Star break are against winning teams.

Focusing on the task at hand, the Bobcats are on the final leg of a six-game road trip -- the first five of which against Western Conference opponents. They haven't played since Monday but it's hard to argue they're not road weary -- after winning their first three, they've dropped their last two. Gerald Wallace, in particular, looks gassed -- he's scored exactly seven points in each of the last three games, never grabbing more than six rebounds.

Question of the Game: In theory, this should be a scheduled loss for the Bobcats. But since when have the Pistons made anything look easy?

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