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Pistons vs. Jazz preview: This Utah team is sneaky good

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Pistons have lost two straight, 5 of last 7. A win Monday night would be nice.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When we got to the point of the schedule that we saw the San Antonio Spurs coming up followed by the Grizzlies and Warriors, we knew it was going to be a tough stretch. But it's been really tough.

Detroit went out and handed the Warriors a beating, but that hasn't been enough to keep the losses from accumulating. The effort has been a day-by-day occurrence, particularly on the defensive end.

There have been times this season where we'd complain about the defense, only to find their defensive numbers like defensive rating and opponent effective field goal percentage allowed are still looking solid. That's not the case of late. Over the past seven games, the Pistons are 25th in defensive rating and 21st in eFG allowed.

Failings on the defensive end have been driving their struggles.

Game vitals

Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

When: 9 p.m. ET

Watch: FS Detroit Plus

Analysis

The Jazz were a preseason favorite who hasn't been able to take advantage of an uncharacteristically weak Western Conference. Injuries have been an issue as Dante Exum tore his ACL during summer play with the Australian national team, putting him out for the season. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors have also missed extended time. Favors has missed the past 15 games and is doubtful for tonight's game.

The injuries are a tough break, because a lot of other things have gone right for the Jazz this season. There's still a considerable amount of talent talent on this team. In fact, with a top 10 offense and allowing the fifth fewest points in the league, they probably should have a better record than their current 19-24 mark. Their team +/- is .2, which is actually the fifth in the Western Conference.

The Jazz has lost three of their past five, but one of those games was a double overtime loss at Charlotte, one an overtime loss in New York, and the other a two point loss on a last second shot against Sacramento. Now, with a six-game home stand against a beatable group of competition, the Jazz should be looking at this stretch as an opportunity to make a big jump into playoff contention.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Jazz play at the slowest pace in the league by a huge margin. The Pistons won't be in a position where they can waste too many possessions, which could make Hack-A-Dre a tough weapon if Quin Snyder decides to implement it.

Key matchup

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope vs Trey Burke

Oh, I know you're sick of this storyline. I'm sorry to do it to you. I feel ashamed about continuing to rehash this tired old theme.

But both of these two guys have been playing great as of late. KCP has arguably been the best player on the Pistons since the calendar flipped, leading the team in scoring with 17.8 per game while shooting 48/35/83.

Burke's success has been more in keeping himself relevant after losing his starting job. He's responded with the best year of his career by a wide margin, posting a 52 percent true shooting percentage after averaging 46 percent in his first two seasons. He's been rewarded with steadily increasing minutes, and currently on a streak of hitting double digits for 11 straight games.

With the struggles the Pistons have had against opposing point guards, Burke could be in for big game.

Last time we met

October 28, 2015, Pistons 92, Jazz 87

Reggie Jackson put the teams on his shoulders down the stretch to carry the Pistons for the win in a tough contest for their second game of the season.

Projected starters

Pistons: Jackson, KCP, Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Andre Drummond
Jazz: Raul Neto, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Trey Lyles, Rudy Gobert