With a win tonight, the Detroit Pistons would sweep the season-series against the Utah Jazz for the first time since January 2016. A win tonight for either team would also avoid a potential three-game losing streak.
While there’s rarely a night this Pistons outfit should be favored, the Jazz will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back after a loss in Cleveland last night.
Utah will also be without the services of Kelly Olynyk and Colin Sexton, two players who started in Detroit’s encounter with the Jazz in late November.
Detroit will be without Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Livers, who unfortunately re-aggravated his shoulder injury and won’t be re-evaluated for 2-3 weeks.
When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +3.5
3 Things to watch for:
1. Bogi vs. The Finnesher
Each of Utah and Detroit are lead by a pair of European wings who are currently in the midst of career years.
After being dealt over the summer to the Jazz as part of the Donovan Mitchell trade, Lauri Markkanen has put together an impressive 29 games with his new team. The Finnish star is averaging 22.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists, with is play earning him league-wide praise as a front-runner for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
The 25-year-old big man is shooting above 50% from the field for the first time in his career, but the major improvement in his scoring attack has been his enhanced scoring from inside the arc. Markkanen is converting on a scorching 61.1% of his two-point looks, a number many thought could reduce as the season progressed. Well, we are now weeks away from the halfway mark and Lauri has shown little sign of slowing down.
Not much needs to be said about the play of Bodganovic. However, for those that haven’t been paying attention, like his European counterpart, the 33-year-old Croatian sharpshooter is also averaging a career-high 21.3 points per contest. His play has been the sole constant amongst an up and down (mostly down) season in Detroit. I recently wrote a piece detailing his supreme scoring ability here.
2. Jalen Duren’s emergence as a starter
In the past week or two, Jalen Duren has asserted himself as one of the NBA’s elite rebounders. We knew the 19-year-old was a menace on the glass, but since being inserted in the starting lineup five games ago, Duren is averaging 13.8 rebounds a night.
The Memphis product has also added 8.6 points, 1.4 assists and 2.0 stocks (steals + blocks) since being promoted to the opening lineup. While just over 1 assist a game doesn’t seem like much, Duren has made a few high-level passes in his past five:
A couple of the above assists have come via second chance opportunities, but the pass he made in the final minute of the Lakers game showed incredible poise and skill.
We are still a couple of seasons away from Duren being utilized frequently as a playmaker, however, it appears the league’s youngest player has a knack for completing some high-level passing reads (for a big).
3. Bench Battle
The Jazz and Pistons have two of the top seven benches in the league, which is not uncommon for the league’s youngest/worst teams. Per NBA.com, Utah ranks fourth for points scored per game with their reserves scoring 40.9 points a night.
And after a slow start, Dwane Casey’s bench lineups have been scorching opponents with 49.8 points per game across the past 10. For context, within the same time periods, the San Antonio Spurs rank second in bench scoring with 43.3 points. The recent surge from the bench now has the Pistons placed 7th in the league for bench scoring (38.5 points).
The trio of Alec Burks, Marvin Bagley III and Saddiq Bey have been the major catalysts for Detroit bench dominance, with each of them averaging 10+ points of the pine. Kevin Knox has also chimed in with 7.4 points. In the Pistons last game against the Jazz, Knox was the hero, scoring a season-high 21 points as Detroit pinched a road win in Utah.
The Jazz’s second-unit have been lead by Malik Beasley and Colin Sexton for the majority season. However, with Sexton out, Nikeil Alexander-Walker has stepped in an averaged 9.4 points in his last 10 games.
Walker Kessler will most likely start tonight in Kelly Olynyk;s absence, however the 7-foot-1 shot blocking machine has been one of the league best rookies in recent weeks. The 21 year-old Auburn product has produced a shade under 10 points (9.9) & 9 boards (8.8), while denying almost 3 (2.7) shots per game in his recent 10 outings.
Detroit Pistons (8-24)
Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren
Utah Jazz (17-16)
Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen, Jared Vanderbilt, Walker Kessler
Question of the Game
Do you see Kevin Knox fulfilling a role on the roster next season?