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Pistons vs. Wizards preview: A welcome way to get back on track?

Hoping to take three out of four going into the All-Star break, the Pistons host the 15-35 (4-21 on the road) Washington Wizards, who the Pistons beat twice by a combined 41 points earlier this season. The Wizards are healthy now, though, and have won four straight against playoff teams.

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Let's make it thrice as nice.

Game tips at 7:30 p.m. EST
Washington Wizards: 15-35 (4-21 road)
Detroit Pistons: 20-33 (14-15 home)

Detroit Pistons Tickets

The Situation

When the Pistons were staring at a home-and-home with the Washington Wizards earlier this season, the team was on a six-game losing streak and had a record worse than it had 28 games into the lockout shortened season the year before. The two weekend games against the Wizards were gut checks, as Frank has called games and decisive moments before. Were the Pistons going to separate themselves from the bottom level of the NBA or were they going to bask in the basement for another year, lose an embarrassing game or two to the Wizards and simply go through the motions the rest of the season? Even the most hopeful of Pistons fans were cringing at the thought of another season with no progress and prolonged talks of tanking.

The Pistons decided to get serious, or something, though. They destroyed the Wizards in the first game, a 32-point home win, and then had no problems with them the next night in DC. From there, the Pistons went on to beat Miami, Atlanta, Milwaukee (twice) and Boston, amongst others, over the next 11 games. A 13-game stretch in which the Pistons were a much improved 9-4.

The Pistons are now 13-12 since those two games, including them, and here they are again, lined up to play the Wizards after whatever setback you want to call Monday's root canal. The Pistons have a chance to enter the All-Star break with a nice 3-1 swing and some "momentum," thanks to the launch pad that could be the Washington Wizards, or they can suffer another embarrassing home loss* like the one against the future Pelicans and be no better for it as they dwell on it over the long weekend.

Let's hope the Pistons haven't packed it in early.

The Wizards' Situation

A big reason for the Wizards' futility, this season at least, is due to injuries. There's basketball folk who actually believe a healthy Wizards team could be very dangerous (*and thus a loss to them wouldn't be so embarrassing). The Wizards have been relatively healthy of late and are 11-7 since starting the season 4-28. They have currently won four straight, all wins coming against current playoff teams!

The Wizards just won their first road match up against an Eastern Conference opponent on Monday, so it's a little concerning that they finally learned how to do that and could use that new skill at The Palace. More importantly, they'll also be healthy.

In the Pistons' 32-point win in December, the Wizards were without John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nenê, Trevor Ariza, and A.J. Price. The Wizards had a limited Beal and Nenê the next night, but each of the aforementioned names should be in the lineup on Wednesday night. That makes them a very different team, as evidenced by their record since then.

The Series

The Wizards have lost four straight to the Pistons and 12 of the last 14. Dating back to 1987, the Wizards -- who have made the playoffs just seven times and have lost in the first round in all but one of those times -- are 9-42 against the Pistons.

Keys to the Game

Pass the basketball: The Pistons are 13-5 when they have 23 or more assists. More assists = more baskets = more likely to win, so obviously this makes sense, but the Pistons especially thrive when they move the ball around and make the extra pass. That is how good basketball works, yes, but the Pistons need to maximize their strength here in Jose Calderon and Will Bynum off the bench.

Don't spin the wheel too much on Beal and Webster: By that, I mean make sure Beal and Wesbter, the Wizards' best three-point shooters, are always accounted for. Beal scored 28 points the other night and is shooting 43% from three since the middle of December while Webster is shooting 56% (!) from there in February. Open three bombs due to lazy or poor rotation D killed the Pistons against the Hornets on Monday.

Point guard defense: Wall is going to penetrate a lot, luring that help D and thus, potentially creating open looks for guys like Beal and Webster. The overwhelming majority of Wall's assists lead to buckets at the rim and three-pointers, so strong D by Calderon and Bynum (and even Knight) can help cut down on help and open looks. I know, this isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it's where you'll see Wall take over as a facilitator if it's not there.

Initial Gut Feeling on Gut Check Game Outcome:

IF I were a betting man, I'd be more likely to take the Wizards +2.