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Pistons vs Mavericks preview: Detroit’s first look at rookie sensation Luka Doncic

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The Pistons will have to counter “Luka Magic” with a little Detroit Muscle

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons head to Dallas to close out their three-game road trip. Being able to escape this road trip going 2-1 would be nice: Every win is necessary to stay within stalking distance of the playoff, even in the moribund Eastern Conference. Make no mistake, too, the playoffs are still the plan. Like Rod Beard of the Detroit News, I’m not telling you how it should or shouldn’t be, I’m telling you how it is:

Let’s get it.

Game Vitals:

When: January 25, 8:30 p.m. EST
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass

Analysis:

Detroit’s main challenge will be containing possible-All-Star whatever Slovenian for “Wunderkind” is Luka Doncic. At 19, Luka has already caused the Mavericks to re-think the entirety of how they will approach the next few years by dint of his offensive shot creation and playmaking.

Luka already displays savvy beyond his years in the pick-and-roll:

He’s a good shooter off the catch:

And, of course, his signature, Can-You-Have-A-Signature-Move-At-19? step-back jumper:

Look at the distance he creates with that move - Kid’s real good.

The Mavericks as a whole, on the other hand, are... less good.

Dallas is essentially the Western Conference version of Detroit: Meh offense (19th in ORTG), surprisingly good defense considering personnel (13th in DRTG), but still at a negative NetRtg (-0.3, much better than Detroit’s -2.6). After starting the season in the playoff picture, Dallas has gone 6-15 in their last 21 games to fall out of it. The two teams even have the same record at 21-26. Conference imbalance strikes again, though: The Pistons’ 21-26 is good for a game and a half out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Mavericks’ 21-26 is good for and four and a half games out of a playoff spot in the Western conference.

Not a complaint, merely an observation.

For their part, Detroit is coming off a win in New Orleans where, once again, it was Blake Griffin and the Blakettes:

Blake has been ridiculous this month, averaging essentially 30/6/6 to single-handedly keep the Pistons’ playoff hopes afloat, and I cannot wait until he’s named an All-Star for his troubles.

It’s primed to get a little easier (or more difficult, depending on your perspective) for him, though, with the probable return of Andre Drummond.

The Pistons managed to scrape together two wins (Miami and New Orleans) with Andre in concussion protocol, but still missed the presence on the glass that Andre provides.

As of this writing, we don’t have an update on Ish Smith’s status - which makes me think the Calderon Crew extends their performance one more night. Especially against Dallas’ multiple-point-guard bench lineups, the six-to-eight minute per-half runtime of the Calderon Crew could make an outsize difference in this game.

Projected Lineups:

Detroit Pistons (21-26):
Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Dallas Mavericks (21-26:)
Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Luka Doncic, Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan

Prediction:

Dallas 109, Detroit 104

Question of the Day:

...Nicolas Batum? Really? That’s where we’re at?