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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons Preview

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Portland aims for 12 wins in a row.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (42-26) vs. Detroit Pistons (30-38)

Saturday, March 17th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Pistons injuries: Reggie Jackson (day-to-day)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Detroit Bad Boys

Late update: After tweaking his ankle in Portland’s victory over Cleveland, Jusuf Nurkic has been slightly downgraded to “probable”.

The last time these two teams matched up — Feb. 5 — the Detroit Pistons beat the Trail Blazers 111-91 in Detroit. It was Detroit’s fourth win in a row. They had recently acquired Blake Griffin and were hoping he would push them to a higher playoff seed. It was Portland’s third loss in a row, and the team was trying to hold on to one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Things have changed dramatically for these two teams in the five weeks since. The Pistons have won only four games since then, going 4-12. Their hopes of even making the playoffs look slim. The Blazers, meanwhile, have only lost once since, going 13-1 and propelling their way to the No. 3 seed.

Portland is looking to extend its 11-game winning streak. Detroit will be playing its third game of a six-game Western Conference road trip. It lost the first two in Utah and Denver.

What to watch for

  • Defending the Pistons’ bigs. Detroit is led by Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. The two combined for 38 points and 26 rebounds in the Pistons’ February win. Blake is a capable 3-point shooter — he’s shooting 47.4 percent on 3’s in March — and can make plays with his passing and driving from the perimeter. Recently, however, the former Clipper has been settling for more mid-range shots. Drummond is a more traditional center. He doesn’t stray too far from the basket and leads the league in rebounding with 15.7 per game. Portland’s bigs will need to work hard to keep Drummond off the boards while forcing Griffin into long, contested jumpers.
  • Detroit’s 3-point shooting. For the season, the Pistons are the sixth-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA at 37 percent. However, in their past 15 games, Detroit is shooting only 34.5 percent — the seventh-worst mark in the league during that stretch. The Blazers have done a good job defending 3-pointers this season, and they’ll work to make sure Detroit doesn’t repeat their 15-30 shooting mark from their previous matchup.
  • Damian Lillard’s hot streak. Damian Lillard’s recent play has earned him national attention as an MVP and All-NBA First Team candidate. He has averaged 30.5 points in his last ten games while shooting over 40 percent on ten 3-point attempts per game. Lillard is getting to the line more with 9.8 free throw attempts in that stretch, up from his season average of 7.2. Detroit held Lillard to 20 points on 8-17 shooting (including only 1-5 from beyond the arc) in the previous game, but the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week has been playing at a different level since then.

What they’re saying

Rohan Nadkarni wrote for SI.com’s The Crossover about what has gone wrong with the Blake Griffin experiment in Detroit:

In 33 games with the Clippers this season, Griffin took 53.1% of his shots in the paint. That’s a healthy number for someone who can be a weapon in pick-and-rolls and bully smaller players on the block, but who also has a jumper to keep defenses honest. In 19 games with the Pistons, only 42.5% of Griffin’s shots are coming inside 10 feet. The majority of that difference has come in pull-up jumpers, on which Griffin has a 34.2% effective field-goal percentage in Detroit. Essentially, with the Pistons, instead of working his way into the paint, Griffin is too often settling for bad shots.

Too many Pistons possessions start and end with Griffin milling around the wing. He’s popping more often than he’s rolling after setting screens, all without much conviction. And he just doesn’t seem to have the same will to hammer his way into the paint as he did in his younger days, though the increased number of bodies in his way is definitely a factor.

Jack Ozark of Detroit Rock City listed some positives from the Pistons’ 2017-18 season, including Andre Drummond’s progression:

First, his abysmal free throw shooting is gone. It’s unreal. He was chucking bricks for his entire career and now he’s reliable. Why is this so important? Because Drummond is finishing games now. The ball can be in his hands without a worry and that alone boosts the offense.

The second thing that happened was Drummond’s surgery to help his breathing. Coming into the league, a Drummond red flag was his motor. That red flag seems to be gone too as Drummond has more energy than ever. If Drummond keeps playing like this he’s going to be scary to play against for a long time.

Detroit Bad Boys’ Mike Snyder wrote that the Pistons will need to lean into the Griffin/Drummond paring:

Every team in the league has a certain number strengths and weaknesses to generate a winning blueprint, which varies only slightly from game to game. The best teams consistently win by executing their strengths while limiting their opponents’ opportunities to conquer their shortcomings. In Griffin and Drummond, Detroit has two willing and able passers that can make the lives of their teammates much easier. Their unique skill set can reduce spacing issues, but since Griffin has joined the club, Drummond’s passing has been an afterthought.

If it’s going to work in 2018-19, that must change.

Nothing completely fixes long-distance shooting woes like... actual shooting, but there is no point in playing pace-and-space if you can’t space. Right or wrong, this is the core moving forward, and it’s up to Stan Van Gundy and the boys to squeeze every available ounce of skill from Drummond and Griffin.