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Pistons vs. Pelicans preview: Can Detroit cancel out the Zion show?

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Zion is great, but he needs help and he’s not getting it

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons ended a three-game losing streak with a convincing win over the depleted Orlando Magic on the night Nikola Vucevic learned he’d made the All-Star team. Tonight the Pistons face a struggling New Orleans team with an aim to slow All-Star big man Zion Williamson. Detroit beat the Pelicans 10 days ago, and New Orleans has lost five of its past seven games.

Game Vitals

When: 8 p.m. EST
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +9.5

Analysis

Zion is averaging 29.9 points on 67.3% shooting since Feb. 10. In that time, however, his Pelicans are just 2-5. That is because their defense has been truly awful. Their 126.2 defensive rating is the worst in the NBA in that span. Detroit’s defense, for comparison’s sake, ranks eighth in the NBA since Feb. 10 at 108.5.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Stan Van Gundy’s Pelicans in the former Pistons coach’s first season at the helm, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the 28th ranked defense in the NBA on the season. The defense of the starts is abysmal and their potent offense isn’t enough to make up the gap.

It seems to be because New Orleans’ perimeter players provide no resistance at the point of attack, and Pelican bigs Steven Adams and Williamson can only do so much in cutting off the paint. New Orleans gives up among the most 3s and allows teams to shoot nearly 40% from the perimeter. They do next to nothing to disrupt the flow of the offense and create few turnovers. It seems like the defense just bides its time, hopes you miss and looks to score on the other end. I imagine this leads to a lot of Van Gundy screaming and doing his patented arm thrusts on the sidelines.

If I’m looking for players who will benefit tonight, I’m looking at the 3-point shooters. Assuming Wayne Ellington plays tonight after sitting out for rest last night, he could finally get untracked a bit. Saddiq Bey could also be in for a big night. He scored 16 points and hit four 3s in the first matchup between these teams. Svi Mykhailiuk also played more than 25 minutes for just the third time of the season in that game, and he scored a season-high 18 points. With young players rotating big games lately, maybe that means it will be Svi’s turn tonight.

Of course, the one thing the Pistons don’t have tonight that they had in that previous matchup was Delon Wright. Wright played a great, efficient game against the Pelicans with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting with 6 assists and 7 rebounds to just one turnover. Dennis Smith Jr is coming off a strong(ish) game against the Magic, and Saben Lee is getting Pistons fans excited as the long-term project shooting guard turned point guard second-round pick, two-way player has had two really excellent games off the bench (grading on a bit of a curve) for the Pistons. I’m excited to see what the penetrating guard can do tonight against this defense.

Projected Lineups

Detroit Pistons (9-22)

Dennis Smith Jr, Wayne Ellington, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee

New Orleans Pelicans (13-17)

Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Question of the Game