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Pistons vs. 76ers preview: Improved Philadelphia visits the Palace

Home again after splitting their four game road trip west, Detroit hosts a Sixers squad that has won three of its last five games.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When these two teams met a month and a half ago, the 76ers could only boast a single win. While going from 1-22 to 7-39 is not a huge leap forward, it is real progress for the worst team in the NBA. Philadelphia actually beat Orlando on the road a week ago, so the Pistons could suffer a similar fate if they put in a weak effort against a lesser opponent.

Not that they ever do that …

Game Vitals

Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI
When: Wednesday, January 27, 2016, 7:30 PM EST
Watch: FSD

Game Analysis

After winning at home against Phoenix last night, the 76ers get to enjoy a back-to-back on the road this evening. And if Detroit is tempted to look ahead to their game Friday versus Cleveland, Philadelphia can be excused for a similar lack of focus – they host Golden State on Saturday!

While the injury-plagued Suns have been setting this season, they were still soundly dispatched, 113-103. Point guard Ish Smith led the way with 20 points (one of six Sixers to score in double figures) and nine dimes. Robert Covington (the erstwhile Grand Rapids Drive draftee) made five threes and University of Michigan alum Nik Stauskas added 15 points.

Philadelphia is firmly ensconced as the league’s worst offense, managing to score only 94.7 points per outing. Their better play of late can be mostly attributed to the addition of Smith, who averages 15.9 points and 8.1 assists. With him at the helm they have gone 6-9 and averaged over 101 points per game.

Rookie Jahlil Okafor has contributed 17.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per night, and 10 guys are averaging six points or more. He was sidelined by an illness Tuesday, however, and is not expected to play tonight. Nerlens Noel will start at center in his place.

For Detroit the key will be to take Philadelphia seriously. A strong defensive effort could even lead to a rout – something infrequently seen at The Palace this season. According to Coach Stan Van Gundy, Reggie Jackson gave his best defensive performance as a Piston against Utah. But the diminutive Smith will be a greater challenge than Trey Burke.

Noel will be giving up 50 pounds in the post to Andre Drummond, which should present him an opportunity to return to his previous dominant play. After recording his NBA-leading 37th double-double versus New Orleans, Drummond has failed to crack either 10 points or rebounds the past two games. We have to go back to November of 2013 to find a similar stretch.

A challenging slate of eight games awaits Detroit after this match, with six of those matches with foes who are vying for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. At 24-21 and currently in seventh place, the Pistons are in no position to take a night off against the 76ers. The All-Star Break will arrive soon enough.

Lineup Projection

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

76ers: Ish Smith, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel

Injured/In Doubt

Pistons: Jodie Meeks (out – foot)

76ers: Jahlil Okafor (out – illness)

Key Matchup

Reggie Jackson versus Ish Smith

Jackson plays his best at home, and in Piston victories he averages 22.8 ppg, 7.1 apg, and shoots 46.6 percent from three. Coming off an All-Star worthy performance on both sides of the ball versus the Jazz, a similar effort tonight will give his coach, his team and his fans assurance that he is taking the next step toward stardom. Smith is a crafty scorer and playmaker, adept at penetrating the paint to score or find open shooters. He probably is not capable of stopping Jackson from scoring, but expect him to be a headache to contain defensively.

Last Time We Met

December 11, 2015 at Philadelphia, Pistons won 107-95

Detroit jumped out to a 21-point first quarter lead, but gave up 20 of those points in the second and fourth quarters. Fortunately a dominant third period had given them a 23-point edge, so they coasted to victory. Jackson and Marcus Morris each scored 21 points.

Score Prediction

Pistons 112, 76ers 98

Community Question

Will Drummond return to his double-double ways?