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Pistons vs. Hornets preview: Detroit’s final countdown to postseason begins Friday

With 10 games left in a season that is already their best since 2008-09, the Pistons host playoff-bound Charlotte as they fight to join them in the East’s elite eight.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

"10 ... 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... 6 ..."

Anyone who has ever watched a rocket launch (or warmed up a burrito in a microwave) knows the eager excitement of awaiting a final countdown. Now after playing 72 games since late last October, Detroit’s season comes down to 10 contests that will determine whether or not they will achieve a playoff liftoff.

Thanks to a New York victory over Chicago on Wednesday night while they dispatched Orlando, 38-34 Detroit moved back into eighth place. With one more win they will match the total achieved by the last Pistons team to reach the postseason. However, 39 wins will almost certainly not secure a spot this year, so the Motor City men dare not rest on their modest laurels.

Winners of 14 of 18 since the All-Star Break, the Hornets visit The Palace Friday night seeking to sweep the season series as they contend for home court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Currently 41-30, they are battling neck-and-neck with Atlanta, Boston and Miami for the third or fourth seed.

Game Vitals

Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI

When: Friday, March 25, 2015, 7:30 PM EST

Watch: FSD

Game Analysis

If the Hornets recent resurgence had been flying under the radar around the NBA, then heads everywhere popped up and took notice when they downed San Antonio on Monday, 91-88. They beat Brooklyn on the road the following night, and have since been idle. (Editor's note: They were already in town on Wednesday night!)

Kemba Walker’s scoring (21.0 points per game) has received most of the recognition for Charlotte’s success, but they have a plethora of weapons and a fundamentally sound, stingy defense. Cody Zeller anchors the interior defense. The four other starters all have three point range, and Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson both average double figure scoring off the bench. The Hornets also take excellent care of the ball, making the fewest turnovers in the NBA (12.7 per game).

Charlotte is not unbeatable, even if they have drubbed Detroit soundly in the previous two matches this season. They lost at home to Denver last Saturday, 101-93. And Dallas beat them there on the previous Monday, 107-96.

The Pistons are riding a four-game win streak, but all these conquests have been at home over sub .500 opponents. Now with their postseason hopes on the line, they will be challenged by higher quality competition. Since only one of their final 10 games is against a squad with no shot at the postseason (29-42 Orlando), if they successfully join the field it will be a well-deserved honor.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was one of the stars the last time these teams fought, tossing in 24 points on 16 shots. If the illness that kept him out of Wednesday’s game sidelines him tonight, Detroit may be ill-equipped to match up with Hornet wings Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee. Darrun Hilliard did acquit himself well versus the Magic, scoring 11 points and nabbing six boards in his first NBA start.

Detroit received some welcome support this week from New York, which swept a home-and-home to drop Chicago to 36-35. A victory against the Hornets would give the Pistons a two-game edge over the Bulls and elevate them to five games over .500 for the first time since Jan. 9.

Lineup Projection

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

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

Injured/In Doubt

Pistons: Reggie Bullock (questionable – illness), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (questionable – illness), Spencer Dinwiddie (out – ankle), Jodie Meeks (out – foot)

Hornets: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (out for season – shoulder surgery), Marvin Williams (questionable – ankle)

Key Matchup

Reggie Jackson vs. Kemba Walker

Jackson has one of his better outings ever versus Walker two weeks ago, scoring 20 points and dishing 10 dimes. Walker got to the line nine times to help him get his 16 points, and had eight assists. While Charlotte can still win when he has an off night (he had only six points and two assists in the defeat of the Spurs), they are very difficult to beat when he is hot. During their seven-game win streak to open March, Walker averaged 28.6 ppg and shot .529

Last Time We Met

March 11, 2015 at Time Warner Cable Arena, Hornets won 118-103

Marvin Williams made five threes and his 22 points led the way as Charlotte jumped out to a 16-point halftime advantage. Drummond was limited by foul trouble to 23 minutes and only scored five points.

Score Prediction

Pistons 102, Hornets 99

Community Question

Drummond has failed to post double figures in either points or rebounds versus Charlotte this season. Will he bust loose tonight?