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Knicks vs. Pistons preview: Sunday Matinee in the D

Big game for the lottery odds with only eight games left.

NBA: New York Knicks at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a rollercoaster last week, the Detroit Pistons kick things off anew while hosting the New York Knicks for the sole afternoon game on the Sunday NBA slate.

With a loss, the Pistons would be tied with the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic for the worst record in the league.

The visiting Knicks are five games behind pace for the last Eastern Conference play-in spot and would need a minor miracle, though they have last two games, on the road in Miami and Charlotte. Julius Randle is questionable for today’s game.

Vitals

When: 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Knicks -4.5

Analysis

With the season winding to its end, the Pistons’ incentive to win basketball games wanes by the hour. We saw that play out in real time in Detroit’s loss to the Washington Wizards when Jerami Grant left the game with an injury and was replaced by 18 minutes of newcomer Braxton Key.

With Grant, Isaiah Livers, and Hamidou Diallo all out for the Knicks game, you can expect to see much of the same. Diallo is out for the season and Grant may be heading down the same path with a calf injury. Key looked predictably out of place against the Wizards, but he did manage to add four points and five rebounds to contribute something off the bench.

But if you’re a Pistons fan still watching the final eight games of this long season, you’re probably not tuning in to see Braxton Key. Cade Cunningham is trying to make a final case for the Rookie of the Year award. And he’s certainly doing his best.

Cunningham is averaging 21 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in March. And he’s doing that all while having easily the most efficient month of his career. Cade will look to continue that success against a Knicks defense that, after struggling for much of the year, ranks fourth-best in March. The one upside for Cade is that he might be able to get a whistle or two — New York’s opponents have the fourth-highest free throw rate in March.

On the other end of the floor, Detroit’s depleted frontcourt could pose a problem for the home team. The Pistons have struggled mightily with Mitchell Robinson’s athleticism in recent matchups and the Knicks have unleashed equally athletic Jericho Sims recently. He’s started the last two games with Julius Randle sidelined and New York has been excellent in those minutes.

With Isaiah Stewart lacking the leaping ability to defend the likes of Robinson and Sims, and Marvin Bagley’s generally poor defense, the Knicks should feast in the paint. If Detroit switches as much as they typically do, it will be especially bad. But if they find a way to scheme around their frontcourt deficiencies and keep the game close, Cade will have a chance to make a statement with no other games competing.

Projected Lineups

Detroit Pistons (20-54)

Cory Joseph, Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Stewart

New York Knicks (32-42)

Alec Burks, Evan Fournier, R.J. Barrett, Obi Toppin, Jericho Sims

Question of the Game

Can Killian Hayes make it four straight games with double-digit points?