Line: Pistons (-4.0)
The Detroit Pistons, if you already do not know, have crashed back to Earth in a harsh way. After getting sent to their seventh consecutive loss to a Denver Nuggets squad that was without Paul Milsap and Nikola Jokic, the Pistons will look to stop the bleeding on Thursday night against the Atlanta Hawks.
After rocketing out to a 10-3 start in November, the Pistons find themselves at 14-13 and tied for the eighth seed with the New York Knicks. Head coach Stan van Gundy called the loss to Denver “one of the worst ones I’ve ever had as a coach.” If they want to right the ship and stay in the playoff picture, Detroit will have to figure things out quickly. Luckily, a matchup against the team with the league’s worst record should do the trick.
At 6-21, the Hawks are abysmal but young. With the Chicago Bulls going on an unprecedented winning streak, Atlanta has sunk to the bottom of the NBA. The Hawks are coming off a loss on the road at Cleveland in a game they really had no chance in. The Cavaliers bombed away from behind the arc en route to a 123-114 win, a blowout that is not shown by the final score. The cold-shooting Pistons should get open looks in this game, but need a complete effort.
Detroit shot 35.4% from the floor against the Nuggets and 33% from the floor against the Boston Celtics. In that Celtics game, the starters shot 22% from the floor and had to be benched far too often. If the Pistons want any chance at a win, they need substantially better shooting from the starters. Reggie Bullock started the last game in place of the struggling Stanley Johnson and shot 3-5, but his ceiling is fairly limited. Rookie Luke Kennard, who came out of Duke known for his sweet shooting stroke, may need to get more minutes. He has a true shooting percentage of 52% and is just under 40% from behind the three-point line. With more minutes, he could be a big contributor on the offensive end. Tonight’s game against the Hawks would be a good time to test that plan out.
Despite the record, Atlanta has some players who could cause problems. Taurean Prince is getting extended minutes this season and had a season-high 24 points agains the Cavaliers. Dennis Schroeder is averaging 20.2 points per game to go along with over six assists. Underrated rookie John Collins is probable for tonight’s game with a shoulder injury, though may be on a minutes restriction. Collins has been a nice surprise, averaging 11.5 points per game and just over seven rebounds. Detroit will likely see a heavy dose of rookie Tyler Cavannaugh if Collins plays sparingly.
It is early in the season for “must-win” games, but the Pistons are getting desperately close to that mantra. While the Eastern Conference has two of the worst teams in the league in Atlanta and Chicago, the rest remain competitive. Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Miami, and Indiana are all either a game and a half above or below Detroit. If the Pistons want to be taken seriously, like many people believed a few weeks ago, beating bad teams needs to be a regular occurrence. I think tonight they get back on track and beat the Hawks 104-92.
(Featured image by by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)