With the All-Star break having come to a close, Detroit finds themselves in the playoff picture by the skin of their teeth. Thanks to the Nets and Heat dropping games last night, the Pistons currently hold a half-game lead for the eighth spot, and are only two games back from the sixth seed, with 26 games remaining on their schedule.
If the Pistons want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016, they’ll have to rack up wins against the bottom-tier teams of the league, which includes tonight’s game against the 19-39 Atlanta Hawks. Detroit has already lost to Atlanta, at home, back in December, so you’d hope that they’d find a way to remain focused for a full 48 minutes, but to say that hasn’t been their M.O. this season would be an over-sized understatement.
When: February 22, 2019, 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA
Watch: FSN+, NBA League Pass
Odds: Detroit -3.5
Even though the Hawks are currently a bottom-five team in the league, they haven’t played thaaaat poorly as of late. They’ve won three of their last seven games, having put up 139 points in regulation on the Wizards and snatched a win at home against a LeBron-led Lakers team during that stretch.
Atlanta is lead by their electric rookie point guard Trae Young, who’s averaging an impressive 16.9 points, and 7.6 assists (leading all rookies) per game. He’s produced plenty of highlight reel worthy dimes throughout the year, and is still a threat from three. He’s only averaging 31 percent from deep on the season, but he’s shot 35 percent from three from December on.
Young’s downside has been on the defensive side of the floor, partly due to size, partly due to being a rookie. This could be a major factor if Reggie Jackson is continuing to produce like he was just prior to the All-Star break. Jackson, who’s bigger and stronger than Young, has established himself as Detroit’s second scoring option, having averaged 19.8 points and 5.9 assists while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 50 percent from deep over his last eight games. Advantage - Detroit... probably.
Not to be outdone by Young, the Hawks second year power forward, John Collins, has taken a major step up in production during his sophomore season. Collins, who was drafted 19th overall in 2017, is everything you want in a modern day big-man - he’s a freak athlete who’s effective the pick n’ roll, and can space the floor, as he’s shooting 36 percent from three on 2.5 attempts per game. He’s also listed at 6’10 and 235 pounds, so his size is nothing to sneeze at. He’s averaged 19.1 points on 61 percent shooting from the floor, while snatching 9.5 boards a game. Blake Griffin will have his hands full with Collins, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this matchup also favors the away team.
The Pistons should also have a distinct advantage on the glass, especially the offensive glass. Detroit is currently ranked ninth in offensive rebounding percentage, while the Hawks rank 24th in defensive rebounding percentage. Drummond once again leads the league in rebounds (15.0) and offensive boards (5.1), so don’t be surprised if he has himself a game even as he battles Dewayne Dedmon down low.
Things finally seem to be clicking for Detroit, with Jackson and Drummond producing at a high level in an efficient manner, and with Blake Griffin continuing to dominate on a nightly basis. And while this team has appeared to be caught daydreaming during some games, they’ll have the most talent on the floor tonight, and should be able to put the feisty Hawks to bed when it’s all said and done.
Detroit Pistons (26-30):
Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Luke Kennard, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond
Atlanta Hawks (19-39):
Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon
Detroit 116, Atlanta 104