Forget about the Pistons’ overall record this season. The only one that matters is 6-0. That’s Detroit’s record after releasing Josh Smith. Since that move, the Pistons have been playing better basketball than anyone else in the league, scoring 107.8 points per game and winning contests by an average of 15.3 points per game, by far the best differential in the NBA.
In second place, however, sit your Dallas Mavericks, with a point differential of 13.5. These are two of the hottest teams going right now, and they’re colliding tonight. Someone’s six-game win streak is going to end this evening, and despite these two clubs’ margins of victory over the last couple weeks, I seriously doubt this one will end in blowout fashion. When two hot teams square off, it’s usually a down-to-the-wire affair — think the games in Washington and Chicago earlier this year. That’s what’s in store tonight. It should be a good one.
|Mavs Offense||Pistons Defense|
|Points/100 poss.||112.2 (1)||103.7 (17)|
|eFG%||53.3 (3)||50.1 (T-16)|
|TOV%||12.5 (3)||14.7 (16)|
|Off/Def Reb%||25.3 (T-14)||75.3 (12)|
|FT/FGA||.265 (20)||.264 (10)|
It’s almost dishonest to use full-season four factors stats with this Pistons team because of how well they’ve played the last six games. During that stretch, Detroit is top-10 in the league in eFG against, opponent turnover rate, and defensive rebounding percentage. All of that adds up to being second in defensive rating.
Over those same last six games, though, the Mavs are the fourth-best offense in the league. Tonight’s game is truly between an unstoppable force and an immovable object, which is something you could not say about it just a few weeks ago. The Pistons are playing playoff-level basketball despite sitting double-digit games below .500.
One constant about Detroit’s defense before and after Smith’s release is the team’s quality rim protection. The Pistons are 10th-best in the league in opponent FG% from within five feet, thanks in large part to Andre Drummond, one of the best centers in the NBA. He’s the only Piston who averages more than 0.6 blocks per game. Drummond also absolutely controls the defensive glass, collecting more DRBs than all but four players in the league, each of whom averages more minutes per game than Drummond’s 30.2. In total, the young big man secures 13.2 boards per game, second-most in basketball. He’s a monster.
One source of the Pistons’ astonishing play the last six games: Detroit has limited opponents to just 19.4 percent shooting on corner threes on 6.2 attempts per game. That is an unbelievable stat. On the season, Dallas is sixth-best in the league from the left corner alone, where we see a lot of Richard Jefferson and Chandler Parsons makes come from. The Mavs shoot 42.1 percent from that area of the floor. Dallas can’t afford to miss those types of shots against the Pistons.
Monta Ellis’s matchup will be the one to watch tonight, as he’ll by guarded by the extremely long Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who stands 6′ 5″ with a 6′ 8″ wingspan. He’s struggled defensively this season, but he’s the type of player who usually gives smaller guards fits. Ellis, however, was 11-of-20 against Detroit earlier this season.
|Mavs Defense||Pistons Offense|
|Points/100 poss.||103.3 (14)||100.2 (T-23)|
|eFG%||50.4 (T-18)||47.5 (26)|
|TOV%||16.9 (T-3)||14.2 (8)|
|Off/Def Reb%||72.0 (29)||27.0 (T-8)|
|FT/FGA||.274 (14)||.269 (T-18)|
As good as the Pistons’ defense has been in the last six games, their offense has been even better. Detroit is scoring 112.3 points per 100 possessions during its six-game winning streak, second-best in the league. All told, their 18.2 net rating is nearly three full points better than second-best Golden State, and exactly three points ahead of third-place Dallas.
A huge source of their success comes from the shooting of Jodie Meeks, the team’s biggest offseason acquisition. Meeks has appeared in just 12 games this season after battling injury toward the beginning of the campaign. But since his return, he’s shooting 45.7 percent from behind the arc and is scoring 13.8 points per game, good for third-best overall on the team, and he’s scoring 17.0 points on 58.6 percent on treys during the win streak. He’s a microwave off the bench, attempting more than 10 FGs per game despite playing just 24 minutes per. He’s going to come out shooting, so the Mavs’ second unit players cannot afford to lose him.
Then, of course, there’s Jennings. The club’s starting point guard is averaging 20.2 points per game on 50.5/45.0/87.5 shooting splits during the win streak in just 27.0 minutes per game. He hit a game-winner last night in San Antonio, too. Fortunately, Dallas now has Rajon Rondo on the defensive end, so that battle should be a great one. The Mavs have allowed just 93.5 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor during the team’s six-game winning streak. (The best mark on the team belongs to Dirk Nowitzki at 88.4 points per 100.)
The biggest key to the game could be slowing Drummond down on the offensive glass. That task will fall to Tyson Chandler and Greg Smith. Detroit’s center grabs 4.9 offensive boards per game, 0.7 more than any other player in basketball. His 5.1 second chance points per game also leads the league. The Mavs are getting better on the defensive glass as time goes on, but that still remains a team weakness overall. Dallas must not only close out on Detroit’s red-hot shooters, but also scramble back toward the rim to secure the rebound. It’s not fun, but that’s what has to happen.
The Pistons are not your average 11-23 team. There probably hasn’t been a better team in the NBA over the course of the last six games, which — although it’s a relatively short period of time — is indicative of the type of potential this club has should the team continue to learn under Stan Van Gundy. One team is going to lose tonight, while the other will take a seven-game winning streak into its next game. And considering Dallas is tied with Memphis for first place in the Southwest Division, this would absolutely be a great win.