Tonight at 8:30pm EST the Pistons will be in Dallas to play against the Mavericks. The Pistons are on two days of rest after beating the Magic on Sunday, while the Mavs are on one day of rest after losing to Phoenix on Monday.
The Mavs are 8-23, but they are probably better than your typical 8-23, which is to say they are bad, but not totally hopelessly terrible. They started off the year very poorly, 1-10 to be exact, and since then are 7-13, which is still bad but not as bad. They sport the 26th offense in the NBA at 101.5 points per 100 possessions, countered by their 17th best defense at 105.7 points per 100 possessions.
The Mavs are lead by Harrison Barnes, who for all the jokes, is really a good player. He averages 18.3 points per game on a very difficult diet of shots and is pretty much a full time small ball 4 these days. Wesley Matthews can still shoot threes but the rest of his game has really declined in a big way but he will always be a very strong defender. Dennis Smith Jr. is electric and mistake prone just like any other 20 year old point guard, although he may not play tonight. Yogi Ferrell continues to be a pretty solid scoring guard although his size proves problematic on defense. Dirk Nowitzki is still the best shooting big man ever, although in his age he does not do a whole lot beyond that these days. J.J. Barea is still crafty and smart. Maxi Kleber is a big guy who I have no clue about, he's from Germany I know. Dwight Powell is a bouncy power forward, Salah Mejri is a large human and also kind of a scum bag. Nerlens Noel is pretty much gone at this point, Devin Harris is not very good anymore.
This team still has some players, and Rick Carlisle remains an excellent coach. But they were never a deep team to begin with, and when some injuries started to hit guys like Seth Curry and Dorian Finney-Smith, hope for a decent season started to fade. They are still not likely to be pushovers all year, but they certainly won't be good.
Matchups to watch:
Andre Drummond vs. Anyone on the Mavericks: I can't imagine Carlisle will make Dirk try and tangle with Drummond much, which means Kleber and Mejri are likely to get most of Drummond. Neither of those guys are very good. Drummond should be able to have his way.
Stanley Johnson vs. Becoming “Bench Mob Ben Simmons”: Shouts to /u/Climaximis for this comparison. In two games off the bench Stanley Johnson has been more aggressive in pushing the pace and getting to the basket than ever before. If he can continue to find success then it won't matter so much that he can't shoot.
Jackson/Harris vs. Getting Going: Both Harris and Jackson have struggled in pretty big ways the last few games. Tobias has struggled to score in ways other than open jumpers, Jackson is missing the floaters and runners that his whole game is based off of, both have been awful defensively at times. The competition will start to get harder again after this game and the Pistons will need these guys right.
Reggie Bullock vs. Being awesome: Since taking the starting role, Reggie Bullock has been the best version of himself and it has been a huge lift to the Pistons. If he can continue to can threes and cut like crazy the Pistons look a lot different, and better.
Barnes vs. Harris: Barnes is the best player on the Mavs and they rely heavily on him. Barnes is a more complete player than Harris is, but this is probably the best 1 on 1 matchup tonight, especially considering that both guys do a lot of their damage via isolation type plays.
Pistons vs. Taking care of business: Even though it hasn't always been pretty, turning around from a rough 7 game losing streak and beating 4 straight teams that you should beat is how you prove staying power in this league. Even if it isn't pretty, winning tonight would cement the idea that the losing streak was mostly a result of tough competition and bad luck, not a larger concern about the team.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Andre Drummond is dominating anyone the Mavericks throw at him.
Jackson and/or Harris have really good games.
The Pistons are making the Mavs lean heavily on Harrison Barnes and Barnes struggles.
Run for the hills if:
Dirk has a throw-back game and is bombing threes.
Harrison Barnes is taking various Pistons defenders to task.
Mejri punks Drummond into doing something stupid.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Reggie Jackson has a very good game.
Tobias Harris and Harrison Barnes largely play each other to a draw.
Pistons win a comfortable game with Drummond leading the way.
Pistons 110 – Mavs 97.
What do you think? Can the Pistons finish off the easier stretch? Can Jackson or Harris get going?