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Pistons vs. Hornets preview: Surging Charlotte has return to playoffs in sight

Hornets are 12-3 since the beginning of February thanks to a 3-point barrage from Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Courtney Lee.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte may not be the hottest team in the East. Toronto has won 22 of 29 games in 2016. Boston has won 21 of 33. By comparison, Charlotte has won 18 of 32. But they endured a seven-game losing streak that began on Dec. 30, and star wing Nicolas Batum missed four of those contests. Since they stopped the bleeding with a victory over Atlanta on Jan. 13, the Hornets have triumphed in 18 of 26. They have already won the first three matches (versus Indiana, Minnesota and New Orleans) in their current seven-game home stand, and hope to add the Pistons to their lengthening list of victims.

Game Vitals

Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
When: Friday, March 11, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Watch: FSD

Game Analysis

Charlotte’s backcourt of Kemba Walker and Batum has been the biggest reason for their improved play this season. Walker leads the way with 21.4 points and 5.2 assists per game, and he’s making a career-high 38.1 percent of his three-point shots. Batum adds 14.4 points and 5.4 assists, and he is playing more small forward now due to the season-ending loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the recent addition of Courtney Lee.

Known the past few years for an offensive attack centered on feeding center Al Jefferson in the post, the Hornets are now far more perimeter oriented. They are fourth in the league in three-pointers made, and ninth in accuracy at 35.6 percent. Power forward Marvin Williams is connecting on 39.2 percent of his threes and Lee is shooting 43.5 percent. In fact, Cody Zeller has taken over Jefferson’s starting role, though they often split the minutes 50-50.

Since Feb. 1, Walker, Lee and Williams are hitting nearly 44 percent of their treys on more than 15 attempts per game. Scary.

After suffering a five-game slide spanning the All-Star Break that threatened to doom its playoff hopes, Detroit has won six of its past eight. With road victories at Cleveland and Dallas, and home conquests of Toronto and Portland, the young Pistons have mostly played with greater competence and confidence of late.

Newcomer Tobias Harris probably deserves most of the credit for lifting the team’s play, contributing 17.1 points and 5.9 boards, and tossing in threes at a 41.2 percent rate. A bench unit dampened by injuries to key reserves Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver has been buoyed by the resurrection of Reggie Bullock (9.0 ppg and 58.3 percent on threes), plus strong play by Steve Blake (5.1 ppg, 3.3 apg, 48.1 from beyond the arc) since the Brandon Jennings trade returned him to the rotation.

The stalwarts of the Motown lineup are still Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.2 ppg), Andre Drummond (16.8 ppg and 15.1 rpg), Reggie Jackson (19.1 ppg and 6.1 apg; 36.7 on threes) and Marcus Morris (13.7 ppg), who together have logged 250 starts and averaged 34.2 minutes per game.

A win tonight will vault the 35-28 Hornets over the 36-29 Hawks into fifth place in the Eastern Conference. For 33-31 Detroit, a victory will ensure that they hold onto eighth ahead of 32-31 Chicago, which is hosting Miami tonight after losing in San Antonio on Thursday.

Lineup Projection

Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond

Hornets: Kemba Walker, Courtney Lee, Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller

Injured/In Doubt

Pistons: Spencer Dinwiddie (out – ankle), Stanley Johnson (out – shoulder), Jodie Meeks (out – foot), Anthony Tolliver (out – knee)

Hornets: Spencer Hawes (out – back strain), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (out for season – shoulder surgery)

Key Matchup

Reggie Jackson vs. Kemba Walker

"Mr. Clutch" Reggie Jackson made yet another big basket Wednesday night in Dallas to help seal the deal for Detroit. Up to that moment he was having a very forgettable night, and he has struggled in March – except for an outstanding 30-point, nine-assist masterpiece versus Portland. Walker has been playing like a guy who feels he deserved to be named an All-Star since the break, averaging 26.2 points, 6.2 dimes, and making 43.6 percent of his 7.8 threes per game.

Last Time We Met

December 7, 2015 at Time Warner Cable Arena, Hornets won 104-84

Drummond and Jackson combined for 13 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists, with each man playing only half the game. With 20 points Zeller outscored them both to lead Charlotte! Caldwell-Pope’s 16 topped the Pistons, who trailed by 11 at the half and by 18 after three periods. Move along ... there’s nothing more to see here.

Score Prediction

Hornets 103, Pistons 97

Community Question

Will KCP, who is 2-17 from 3 over the last four games, find his missing shot in Charlotte?