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Pistons vs. 76ers preview: Losing is not an option

The NBA schedule has not been kind to Detroit so far this season, but Friday night it offers them the easiest opponent possible. Can the Pistons unwrap this generous gift?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes there are reasonable explanations for why a team loses. When the Pistons fell 104-84 on Monday night in Charlotte, it was the second game of yet another back-to-back against a quality foe. When they lost on a last second half court heave to the Grizzlies at The Palace on Wednesday, it was an improbable ending against another strong opponent.

Friday night the Pistons visit a Philadelphia team that is 1-22. While the visitors were resting, the home team was in Brooklyn, where they lost 100-91. The 76ers actually led by four points heading into the fourth quarter, but the Nets rallied to avoid being embarrassed on their home court.

Needing a win after two consecutive losses, what more can Detroit ask for than to face the league’s worst team when it is playing the second game of a back-to-back? Presumably the Pistons could also ask that Philadelphia’s entire starting line-up come down with the flu, but "two out of three ain’t bad."

Simply put, a loss to the 76ers would be inexcusable. No amount of lipstick could pretty up that pig.

Game Vitals

Where: The Center, Philadelphia, PA

When: Friday, December 11, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

Watch: FSD Plus

Game Analysis

The 76ers only win so far was at home on Dec. 1st against a dismal Lakers team, 103-91. They have the worst rated offense, abetted by the fact that they lead the league in turnovers (18.0 per game). They are also very poor shooters – a flaw they share with the Pistons. They shoot a lot of threes (26.7 per game), but not very accurately (.317 percent). If you want to see sharpshooters at work, this game will not be your best bet.

Virtually the only real bright spot for Philadelphia has been the play of rookie center Jahlil Okafor, who is averaging 17.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Nerlens Noel, who starts alongside him at power forward, does not appear to have improved any over his rookie year, which may call into question the future of this pairing.

For the Pistons the major concern is also an offense that misfires far too often. The team field goal percentage of .418 is 28th, the three-point percentage of .316 is 27th, and the free throw percentage of .653 is 30th. How bad are those numbers? Only the field goal accuracy is better than the mark (.413) that Detroit recorded through the "Josh Smith Era" of 2014-15. What has kept the Pistons afloat in spite of this offensive inefficiency is a sixth rated defense that allows just 97.6 ppg.

Reggie Jackson (19.3 ppg and 6.3 apg) and Andre Drummond (18.0 ppg and 16.7 rpg) are the leaders of Detroit’s attack. Marcus Morris has been the only other consistent contributor with 14.4 ppg, but his shooting (.298 from three) has also been significantly below his career average of .357. This same issue continues to plague Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (.284), Anthony Tolliver (.317) and Steve Blake (.302).

The Pistons last won away from home on November 20th in Minnesota and have a 4-8 road record. With tough contests against the Pacers, Clippers, Celtics and Bulls coming up over the next week, they can ill afford to drop this game if they want to stay above .500.

Lineup Projection

Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Andre Drummond

76ers: Isaiah Canaan, Tony Wroten, Robert Covington, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor

Injured/In Doubt

Pistons: Brandon Jennings (Achilles – out for three weeks), Jodie Meeks (foot - out for 10 weeks)

76ers: Joel Embiid (foot surgery - likely to miss entire season), Carl Landry (wrist surgery – out until January), Kendall Marshall (injured knee - questionable)

Key Matchup

Andre Drummond versus Jahlil Okafor

Okafor (17.1 ppg and 8.0 rpg) scored 22 points, grabbed 10 boards, and got Brooke Lopez into foul trouble last night, holding him to just seven points in 19 minutes. His play has been virtually the only bright spot for the 76ers, but if he can draw fouls on Drummond that will throw a big wrench in all the Pistons plans. Okafor is only shooting .450 percent, so the key will be for Drummond to stay in the game and focus on his strengths of rebounding, scoring on lobs and tip-ins, and setting picks to free Jackson for drives to the hoop.

Last Time We Met

March 18, 2015 at Philadelphia, 76ers won 94-83

After a huge 105-95 win the previous night at The Palace, the Pistons flew east and lost for the third time to Philadelphia. Last season three of their games versus the 76ers came on back-to-backs, and they lost two of them. This time Jackson posted a triple-double but only shot 4-17, as Detroit made just .333 percent of its attempts. Caldwell-Pope led all scorers with 20 points.

Score Prediction

Pistons 103, 76ers 90

Community Question

Will Drummond outscore Okafor?