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Pistons vs. Hornets preview: Which lotto team has improved the most?

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Charlotte and Detroit both missed the playoffs last year and both are above .500 now. Monday night we get an early glimpse at which summer rebuild has been more successful.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It was clear after the 2014-15 season that both the Hornets and the Pistons needed to upgrade their rosters if they were going to compete to play next May. In Monday night’s match at Charlotte we will get to compare how each team’s respective approach has influenced their fortunes.

With young Greg Monroe and aging Tayshaun Prince both free agents last summer, Detroit’s obvious need was to secure those frontcourt positions. Stan Van Gundy made bargain trades for Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris, who have started every game for the 12-9 Pistons. Together they are averaging over 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. The draft also yielded Stanley Johnson, a 19-year-old wing who has become a key reserve.

Charlotte was the least accurate team in the NBA at shooting three-pointers last season (.318 percent), and made several moves to shore up that weakness. The key one was trading for Portland’s Nic Batum, who is making .404 percent of his threes. Kemba Walker (.367) and Marvin Williams (.370) have also helped lift them to 14th best at .351 percent. This improvement has helped the Hornets rise to the league’s tenth rated offense.

Game Vitals

Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC

When: Monday, December 7, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

Watch: FSD

Game Analysis

The Hornets are 11-8 after Saturday night’s 102-96 road victory over Chicago. They have won six of their last eight and are 8-3 at home. And their last two losses were to Cleveland and undefeated Golden State. While traditional Pistons’ nemesis Al Jefferson has missed the past two games with a leg injury and is not expected back tonight, Charlotte has not missed a beat without him.

Batum is the biggest reason for the more potent sting to the Hornets’ offense. He’s averaging 17.2 points, 6.6 boards and 4.5 assists, sporting a sizzling .579 True Shooting Percentage. Leading scorer Walker mans the point (17.6 ppg and 4.8 apg), and the Jeremys (Lamb and Lin) both average double-figure scoring off the bench.

Charlotte started 7-0, 240 Cody Zeller and 6-6, 230 P.J. Hairston upfront against the Bulls, and also played Spencer Hawes and rookie Frank Kaminsky in Jefferson’s absence. They will probably seek to draw Andre Drummond away from the middle on defense – or make the Pistons pay for it if he sags off on their big men. While Zeller is not an offensive threat away from the hoop, Hawes has connected on .344 percent of his threes.

Detroit has won four straight at home and seven of its last 11 games. On offense the key as always will be the pick and roll action between Drummond and Reggie Jackson – and finding open shooters when the defense collapses to stop them. While three-point shooting (.319 percent) has been a weakness for the Pistons, they have shot .371 during the current winning streak. Defensively, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be called on to cool off Batum’s hot shooting.

Detroit is 2-3 when playing the second game of a back-to-back, and both of those wins came at home. Sunday night’s blow out of the Lakers did allow Stan Van Gundy to rest his starters; only Caldwell-Pope and Morris played over 30 minutes. Currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a win would vault the Pistons into a tie with fifth place Atlanta at 13-9.

Lineup Projection

Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Andre Drummond
Hornets: Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, P.J. Hairston, Cody Zeller

Injured/In Doubt

Pistons: Brandon Jennings (Achilles – out for three weeks), Jodie Meeks (foot - out for 10 weeks)
Hornets: Al Jefferson (left calf injury - out for one to two weeks), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (dislocated shoulder - out for season)

Key Matchup

Reggie Jackson vs. Kemba Walker

Jackson (20.1 ppg and 6.6 apg) and Walker are the primary offensive engines for their respective teams, and will probably be matched up with each other on defense, too. Jackson has been on a tear of late, averaging 27 points and 8.8 assists and shooting .529 from beyond the arc. Walker is a pesky defender (averaging 1.8 steals) and hit a big shot against the Bulls with 29 seconds left to give Charlotte a four-point lead.

Last Time We Met

October 21, 2015 (Preseason) at The Palace, Hornets won 99-94

Batum and Lin each scored 18 points and Charlotte broke open a close game in the last 2:39 by outscoring the Pistons 12-4. Drummond scored 21 points and grabbed 15 boards, but Jackson scored only 10 points (shooting 3-15) to go with his 11 dimes.

Score Prediction

Hornets 101, Pistons 92

Community Question

Will Drummond get his sixth 20 rebound game of the 2015-16 season?