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Pistons vs. Suns preview: Battle of bigs kicks off West Coast road trip

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve felt like you haven’t been able to pin down who the Detroit Pistons are, you aren’t alone. One day, they’ll have a triumphant back and forth battle with one of the best teams in the league, like they did when they beat the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. The next day, they’ll allow a bottom-three team to rack off 39 points in the fourth quarter, resulting in a deflating loss, which is what happened on Monday against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers.

With a four-game Western Conference road trip staring them in the face, and playoff positioning on the line, the Pistons don’t have time to reflect on their own confusing identity; they’ll have to regroup and focus on playing the brand of basketball that’s made them a winning team over the course of the last two months. They’ll kick off this trip by visiting the 17-55 Phoenix Suns, who have won five of their last nine games. If Detroit limps into tonight’s game like they did against the Cavs, that could result in a second straight loss, with the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, Warriors and Nuggets waiting on deck.

Game Vitals

When: Thursday, March 21st, 10:00 p.m. EST
Where: The Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: FSD+, NBA League Pass

Marquee Matchup

Deandre Ayton

Ayton has consistently produced all season, ranking first in rebounds (10.3) and third in points (16.4) per game among rookies. He’s become a better rim protector throughout the course of the season, averaging 1.1 blocks over his past ten games, and he’s showing a better understanding of where to be within the team’s defense. He’s also shown active hands in passing lanes, averaging 1.2 steals during that same stretch. Ayton might not have the flashiest game, but he’s an excellent athlete who effectively uses that athleticism as a rim runner, finishing lobs and bodying up opposing centers once he has deep positioning in the paint. He also possesses plenty of talent on the block, and can square up comfortably with a jumper from 10-12 feet.

Ayton has already had a solid showing against Detroit back in November, where he scored 25 points on 85 percent shooting from the floor. He also snatched 13 rebounds and chipped in three blocks in that game, a game that the Suns were leading heading into the fourth quarter, before the Pistons ran away in the final frame. If Ayton can be nearly as effective in tonight’s game as he was earlier this season, and someone else chips in other than Devin Booker, the Suns could be a very difficult out.

Andre Drummond

Drummond posted his 12th 20-20 (points and rebounds) game of the season on Monday night, the 39th time he’s reached that clip in his career, which is good for fifth since 1983. As has been pointed out before, he’s been on an absolute tear, having averaged 17.5 points and 17.1 rebounds, while shooting 55 percent from the floor and 65 percent from the free throw stripe over his past 15 games.

But if the Cleveland game is any indicator, it’ll take more than Drummond going off for this team to lock up wins down the stretch, even if they are playing one of the bottom tier teams of the league. Luckily for Detroit, Drummond will be paired up with a well-rested Blake Griffin, who sat out against the Cavaliers, which should be the difference maker once this game is all said and done.

Lineups

Detroit Pistons (36-34):
Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Wayne Ellington, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Phoenix Suns (17-55):
Devin Booker, De’Anthony Melton, Mikal Bridges, Dragan Bender, DeAndre Ayton

Prediction

Detroit 110, Phoenix 98