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Pistons vs. Pacers preview: Back home after the break

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Could tonight’s game be a preview of an April playoff series?

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons haven’t played a home game in two weeks, between heading to Boston before the All-Star break and the subsequent road back-to-back in Atlanta and Miami. Tonight, they finally return to Little Caesars Arena (where they are 17-13 this year) to take on the Indiana Pacers, who are playing well even after the loss of Victor Oladipo for the rest of the season. Both the Pistons and Pacers are coming off of wins on a back-to-back, with the Pacers taking care of the Pelicans at home on Friday, then flying to Washington to defeat the Wizards Saturday.

Game Vitals:

When: February 25, 2019, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
Odds: Det -2.5

Analysis:

You cannot tell the story of the Pacers season without mentioning two things: Their defense, and Victor Oladipo’s season-ending ruptured quad tendon.

Indiana, at 40-20 (the Pacers have FORTY wins this season?!!?!) are the no. 3 seed in the East mostly due to their defense; they have the second-best DRTG in the league (104.2), and the gap between them and the third best DRTG is the same as the gap between the third-best defense and the eighth-best defense. They play with effort and intensity on that end every night, a huge credit to Nate McMillan, and Myles Turner (who hasn’t played in their last two games and is designated “Questionable” with a hip injury for tonight’s game) has been a dark-horse Defensive Player of the Year candidate after a slow start to the season.

Normally, this is the part where you’d say “But despite having the second-best defense in the league, they’ve struggled to score and close games without Oladipo,” but that... just hasn’t been true. Indy added quality 3-and-D wing Wesley Matthews on the buyout market to shore up their rotation, shifted more offensive responsibility on to Bojan Bogdanovic, and have gone 8-1 in February, with the lone loss coming at the hands of the best-in-conference Milwaukee Bucks.

During this stretch, Indiana has delivered beatdowns to the Lakers and Clippers and is averaging 111 points per game and only allowing 98 points per game. This Pacers team is GOOD, y’all. Pistons fans should remember the swarming defensive effort the Pacers displayed when they matched up earlier this season, a 37-point loss that A) Didn’t even feel THAT close, and B) Gave Detroit its first “team meeting” of the season:

Fortunately, the Pistons we’ve seen in February have played much better than they did that fateful night in December. Since his infamous hijacking of Blake Griffin’s post-game interview, Reggie Jackson has looked like the Reggie of old, averaging 19 points, six assists, and a mere 1.5 turnovers a game, along with shooting 44 percent from three. Reggie’s improved play, in turn, has keyed a surge from Andre Drummond and made the Pistons less reliant on the effective bully-ball of Blake Griffin on a night-to-night basis. Diversifying the offense has made the Pistons more effective and more difficult to shut down, and put the Pistons back into the thick of the playoff race.

The Pistons have played so well, in fact, that it’s begun looking like not only will they make the playoffs, but they could get up to the sixth seed in the East, which likely would mean a first-round series with... these Indiana Pacers. Fans, on DBB and elsewhere, see the Pacers as more vulnerable than other potential first-round opponents, which makes tonight’s game particularly interesting from a playoff preview perspective.

Will the Pistons’ recently improved offense be enough to match the Pacers’ consistent approach on defense? Can the Pistons keep the Pacers out of transition (avoiding plays like this one) and keep the game close? If the Pacers don’t have Myles Turner available, will Kyle O’Quinn and Domantas Sabonis be enough to handle Andre Drummond on the glass?

We’ll see.

Projected Lineups:

Detroit Pistons (28-30):
Reggie Jackson, Wayne Ellington, Bruce Brown Jr., Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Indiana Pacers (40-20):
Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Kyle O’Quinn

Prediction:

Indiana 112, Detroit 107