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Pistons vs. Grizzlies preview: Sandwiched between elite Spurs and Warriors, Memphis still a meaty opponent

Sitting at 7th in the East after falling to the Spurs, and with the Warriors coming to Motown on Saturday, Detroit cannot afford to look past Thursday night's foe.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

A quick look at the standings in the Western Conference, where Memphis sits at 6th with a 21-19 record, could easily lead fans to favor the Pistons when they visit the home of "the King" (Elvis Presley, not that basketball player from Akron). The Grizzlies seem to be showing their age this season, with six of their key contributors over 30, and point guard Mike Conley the youngster among the starters at age 28. In contrast, Ersan Ilyasova is the "old man" at age 28 among the Detroit starting five.

Nevertheless, Memphis is in the midst of a six-game home stand, and they enjoy a 13-7 record at the FedEx Forum. A fourth quarter blitz by the Rockets downed them Tuesday night, 107-91, but they were missing both Conley and Matt Barnes from their regular rotation. These two are questionable for this evening’s game, and if they are ready to go their presence could significantly impact this contest.

Game Vitals

Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN

When: Thursday, January 14, 2016, 8:00 PM EST

Watch: FSD

Game Analysis

The Pistons are also coming off a loss at home on Tuesday, though their match was against the streaking Spurs, who won their ninth straight, 109-99. While Detroit is 8-11 on the road, half of those wins have come at the expense of teams that are .500 or better. The biggest surprise has been a defense that has been fifth best in the NBA, thanks partly to its ability to deny good looks from three (just 20.1 attempts; second only to the Spurs).

There is no big mystery to what the Pistons seek to do on offense. Reggie Jackson (averaging 19.6 points and 6.6 assists) and Andre Drummond (18.0 ppg and 15.4 caroms) lead the way, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.4 ppg), Marcus Morris (13.8 ppg) and Ersan Ilyasova (10.8 ppg, .363 from three) looking for openings. The bench has steadily improved, with Aron Baynes becoming a reliable stand-in for Drummond and Brandon Jennings recent return promises greater progress the second half of the season.

Center Marc Gasol (15.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 3.8 apg) shoulders the heaviest offensive load for the Grizzlies, and anchors their defense. Conley is next (15.1 ppg and 5.8 apg), followed by Zach Randolph (14.2 ppg and 8.3 rpg), who since mid-December has come off the bench in all but one game. Jeff Green has taken his place at power forward, with unspectacular results (10.4 ppg, .267 three-point shooting).

Memphis shoots poorly from the floor (.429) and beyond the arc (.319), but helps make up for that deficiency by getting 25 (sixth best) shots at the charity stripe and converting .794 percent (fourth). The main reason for their struggles this year has been a defense that has been uncharacteristically weak, though they are tops at forcing turnovers (17.0 per game). Thanks to several blow-out losses (like a 119-69 drubbing by the Warriors), the Grizzlies possess the worst point differential (-2.9) of any team currently in a playoff spot.

Lineup Projection

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

Grizzlies: Mario Chalmers, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Jeff Green, Marc Gasol

Injured/In Doubt

Pistons: Jodie Meeks (out – still recovering from foot surgery)

Grizzlies: Jordan Adams (out - right knee), Mike Conley (questionable – Achilles injury), Matt Barnes (questionable – thumb injury), Brandan Wright (out - knee injury)

Key Matchup

Andre Drummond versus Marc Gasol

These two went at it hard in the first meeting, with Drummond scoring 18 points and snatching 19 rebounds (seven offensive), and Gasol tossing in 19 points and pulling down 12 boards. Both big men committed six turnovers. Neither team can hope to win without at least netting a draw in this battle of the behemoths.

Last Time We Met

December 9, 2015 at The Palace, Grizzlies won 93-92

All anyone can recall now is how Aaron Rodgers Matt Barnes’ desperation "Hail Mary" heave from half court with 1.1 seconds left stunned the home team. Memphis outscored the Pistons 26-18 in the fourth and Zach Randolph bullied them inside with 21 points and 16 rebounds (seven offensive). It also did not help that Caldwell-Pope and Jackson shot 2-12 from three.

Score Prediction

Grizzlies 98, Pistons 95

Community Question

Who gets more offensive rebounds tonight – Drummond or Randolph?