The Detroit Pistons are a game and a half back from the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a mere two and a half games back from the sixth seed, coming off a much-needed overtime win over a team they are scrapping with in the standings, and have the fifth-easiest schedule by opponent record for the rest of the season.
The Detroit Pistons have the 5th easiest strength of schedule moving forward.— David Fernandez (@THE_FERNANTULA) January 17, 2019
Opponents combined winning percentage - .484
Toughest opponents- Bucks, Raptors (2×), Dubs, Pacers (2×)
Easiest opponents- Cavs (2×), Bulls (2×), Knicks (2×)
The Detroit Pistons are also a full five games under .500, are coming off a road trip where they went 1-3, are 3-7 in their last 10 games, and have the league’s seventh-worst net rating (-2.7).
Perspective is a funny thing, isn’t it?
When: January 18, 7 p.m. EST
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
Odds: Det -2.0
The Miami Heat, now .500 and sixth in the East, have turned their season around thanks to their defense; Miami is up to eighth in the league in defensive rating (106.4) for the season, and fourth in the league in defensive rating over the last 15 games. I, too, am shocked that a team coached by Erik Spolestra that starts four athletic, long-limbed wings and a rim-protecting center has turned out to be good defensively.
The other big story out of Miami has been the ascension of Justise Winslow. Winslow, now starting at point guard thanks to an injury to Goran Dragic, has responded to that assignment by averaging career-highs in usage rate, points, assists, three-point attempts and percentage, and true shooting percentage. Sure, that career-high true shooting percentage is still barely over 51 percent (also known as “Worse than Reggie Jackson’s”) but he’s still initiating better than most envisioned he would.
Pistons fans might remember Winslow as the guy who gave Blake Griffin fits on the block the last time these two teams played:
In fact, the Pistons overall generated 31 points on those 42 Griffin-vs-Winslow possessions, "good" for an offensive rating of 73.8.— Nekias Duncan (@NekiasNBA) November 6, 2018
Winslow had his hands full -- Griffin is still a physical beast that's tough for people to deal with -- but Winslow more than held his own.
I doubt that Winslow will draw that assignment this game - cross-matching your point guard with the other team’s power forward is probably hell on transition defense - but it speaks to the breadth and depth of the Heat roster that their current starting point guard COULD guard power forwards if needed.
(“Why don’t we do that with Stanley Johnson???” Because Justise can dribble with his off-hand and Stanley can’t. Get outta here.)
However, as you might’ve guessed from the whole “starting point guard Justise Winslow” thing, the Heat are not a great offensive team, ranking 22nd in the league in ORTG (106.5) - just ahead of the Pistons, whose offensive struggles we are intimately familiar with.
Josh Richardson has cooled off from his “We shouldn’t have traded him for Jimmy Butler because he IS Jimmy Butler” start and is now slashing 40/37/86. 37-year-old Dwyane Wade comes off the bench and is third on the team in points-per-game. Their best three-point shooter, Wayne Ellington, has been left out of the rotation because Dion Waiters is back from injury. Dion Waiters is up to Dion Waiters things.
Like all the teams in the middle third of the Eastern Conference, Miami has talent, and has flaws.
Your Detroit Pistons are still re-integrating some of their talent. It is great to have Ish Smith back (or, I should say, it is great to not be compelled to play Jose Calderon), but he’s shooting 25 percent from the floor in the two games he’s played. It is great to have Zaza Pachilia back (or, I should say, it is great to not be compelled to play Jon Leuer at center), but he still only brings bone-crunching screens and adequate paint defense. The bench is better with those two guys playing, but questions about the rest of the roster still abound.
To win tonight, the Pistons need Luke Kennard to be aggressive in looking for his shot with the bench unit, especially if he’s being guarded by Wade or Waiters. Luke came out shot-hunting Wednesday against Orlando, and it resulted in one of his better games this season:
Luke’s too good to not always play like this, whether the shots are falling or not.
Detroit Pistons (19-24):
Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond
Miami Heat (21-21):
Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside
Miami 106, Detroit 102