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Pistons face key conference foes in upcoming contests

Detroit surprised almost everyone with its 5-1 start, but after dropping four straight the expectations are also falling. With five of its next nine games at home, can the team return to its early winning ways?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

In our first fan poll of the regular season, 51 percent of voters expected the Pistons to win four or five of their first ten games.

They were right; Detroit’s record now stands at 5-5.

But like the 34 percent who more optimistically predicted six or more victories, most fans are not pleased that the fifth win came over a week ago. Road victories at Atlanta, Phoenix and Portland, plus home conquests of Chicago and Utah, have faded into the background after four consecutive losses. Especially since two defeats were against poor teams like the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers.

Still, .500 is not a bad beginning against a challenging, road-heavy (seven games on the road to start) opening slate. And since Eastern Conference teams that win half their games almost always make a trip to the postseason, it’s probably too soon to abandon all hope. With several likely competitors for a playoff spot next on the docket, and five out of the next nine games at home, now would be a good time for a series of statement wins. In order for that to happen, Detroit will need to elevate its 27th-ranked offense that is making even last year’s Josh Smith-era gang look like marksmen.

Game 11 (Tues., Nov. 17): Cavaliers at Pistons

Cleveland is 8-2 after a 108-105 double-overtime loss in Milwaukee on Saturday night. LeBron James scored 37 points, but committed seven of the Cavs’ 20 turnovers and shot 6-12 from the foul line. Detroit probably should not expect him to be as generous at The Palace, so Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson will have their hands full. Kevin Love is playing a larger role this season (averaging 17.2 points and 12.1 rebounds). Mo Williams (15.6 points and 5.1 assists) starts at point guard, as Kyrie Irving may not return to action until January. Detroit will be seeking to contain the NBA’s third-best offense and score against the eighth-ranked defense.

Advantage: Cavaliers

Game 12 (Fri., Nov. 20): Pistons at Timberwolves

Coach Sam Mitchell’s charges have been something of an early surprise, winning on the road in Chicago and Atlanta. They fell to 4-6 with their fourth straight loss to Memphis on Sunday, and will travel to Miami and Orlando before hosting Detroit. Rookie Karl-Anthony Towns has played well, averaging 15.7 points and 10.3 boards, and Andrew Wiggins leads their offense with 20.5 ppg. Former Piston Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett and Andre Miller contribute veteran moxie to this young squad. The battles between Andre Drummond and Towns, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wiggins, should be worth the price of admission.

Advantage: Pistons

Game 13 (Sat., Nov. 21): Wizards at Pistons

Washington also has been playing .500 ball. They will visit Detroit with fresh legs, since they are off after their home game with Milwaukee Tuesday night. Bradley Beal has been a star (22.7 points with a .587 True Shooting Percentage), but he has missed two games with a shoulder injury. John Wall has struggled with his shooting (.494 TS%) and turnovers (4.6 per game). Like the Pistons, their frontcourt is adjusting to two new starters (Kris Humphries and Otto Porter) alongside center Marcin Gortat. This game already will be Detroit’s fourth back-to-back.

Advantage: Wizards

Game 14 (Mon., Nov. 23): Pistons at Bucks

Milwaukee’s record is identical to Detroit’s after their defeat of the Cavs last Saturday, but they have rallied after a 0-3 start that included being humiliated 122-97 in their home opener by the Knicks. They travel to Washington, Cleveland and Indiana before hosting the Pistons. Giannis Antetokounmpo (17.8 ppg and 7.2 rpg) and Greg Monroe (17.8 ppg and 10.2 rpg) have been solid, and they have benefited from superb three-point shooting by Jerryd Bayless (.467 percent from 3) and Kris Middleton (.442). While their offense has been surprisingly strong (ranked No. 11), their defense has been unexpectedly bad (ranked No. 27).

Advantage: Bucks

Game 15 (Wed., Nov. 25): Heat at Pistons

A win tonight would lift the mood in Motown for Thanksgiving, when fans of the disappointing Lions desperately hope they see turkeys is on their tables, not their televisions. Miami’s second-ranked defense has been stout (opponents are shooting .409 percent from the field and .293 on three-pointers), so this match could be a recipe for disaster for Detroit’s feeble shooters. Chris Bosh has been great (19.0 ppg and 9.7 boards; .390 on threes), Hassan Whiteside blocks four shots per outing, and Dwayne Wade adds 18 ppg.

Advantage: Heat

Game 16 (Fri., Nov. 27): Pistons at Thunder

It’s "Black Friday" (shop till you drop!) and Reggie Jackson returns to face the team he left behind for the first time since last February’s trade. Hopefully his gratitude for the opportunity Stan Van Gundy has given him will be visible on the court. His counterpart Russell Westbrook is averaging a near triple-double (25.4 ppg, 10.2 apg, 8.1 rpg). Kevin Durant (28.1 ppg) should be back after missing some action due to a strained hamstring. The NBA’s second-best offense scores over 110 points per game, and their solid bench includes former Pistons D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler. Oklahoma City is currently 6-4.

Advantage: Thunder

Game 17 (Sun., Nov. 29): Pistons at Nets

Could this game be an early Christmas gift from the NBA scheduler? Brooklyn began the season 1-9, 11 of their first 16 games have been on the road, and they will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after a Saturday night match in Cleveland. Their offense has been pitiful (29th) and they are the worst shooting team in the league from beyond the arc (.265). Brook Lopez leads the way (19.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg), but perennial Pistons’ nemesis Joe Johnson has struggled (10.8 ppg, .194 from three) to start the season. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should get to play against fellow Arizona alum Stanley Johnson.

Advantage: Pistons

Game 18 (Mon., Nov. 30): Rockets at Pistons

The scheduler giveth and the scheduler taketh away: Detroit returns home for its fifth back-to-back. Houston has started slow (4-6), with a 29th ranked defense and an offense that shoots the three prolifically (second in attempts), but poorly (29th in accuracy). Perhaps they "miss" Josh Smith? James Harden’s shooting has been abysmal (.240 on 9.6 threes per game), unless he’s on the foul line (.866 on 11.9 attempts). Dwight Howard has been solid (16.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg) since his return to the line-up.

Advantage: Rockets

Game 19: (Wed., Dec. 2): Suns at Pistons

Remember that 100-92 victory at Phoenix that jump-started Detroit’s early road trip west? That game will have taken place nearly a month ago (Nov. 6), and the Suns (5-4) have posted big margins over the Clippers and Nuggets since then. Fortunately, they will be playing their fourth game in six nights, and the second game of a back-to-back. Eric Bledsoe (23.2 ppg, 6.2 apg, .400 on threes) and Brandon Knight (19.1 ppg, .383 on threes) are the scorers, and they have the fifth-best defense in the NBA.

Advantage: Pistons

Will Motown pile up some more wins with more hometown support? Vote your projection and then share your thoughts in the comments.