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Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons

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The Blazers aim for three in a row as they take on the Pistons.

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (44-27) vs. Detroit Pistons (37-34)

Saturday, March 23th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (out)
Pistons injuries: None
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Detroit Bad Boys

The Portland Trail Blazers have played two games since the night CJ McCollum got injured, and they have two wins. Meanwhile, every team around them in the standings has lost at least once during that time period. Portland now finds itself in fourth place in the conference with a favorable schedule ahead.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Detroit Pistons are in sixth place in the East. Winners of seven of their last ten, the Pistons are a capable team fighting for the playoffs. Nevertheless, on paper this is a game the Blazers should win. Take it from the Toronto Raptors though, the team with the second best record in the NBA, Portland shouldn’t take anything for granted. The last two times the Raptors faced the Pistons, it was Detroit who came away victorious.

What to watch for

  • Blake Griffin. Most nights Griffin carries the main scoring load for the Pistons. These days he is taking a lot of attempts from beyond the arc. More than one out of three attempts are from deep this season, with some games seeing him take over half of his attempts from three. One way or another, Griffin is likely to score. Keeping him closer to 20 than 30 would go along way towards a Blazers victory.
  • Andre Drummond. Drummond is a rebounding machine, leading the NBA with 15.5 rebounds per game. For comparison, Jusuf Nurkic leads the Blazers with 10.4 per game. The Blazers are one of the best rebounding teams in the league though, so an interesting question will be if the Blazers as a team can keep Drummond below his average.
  • The Blazers need to make their shots count. Detroit allows the second-fewest field goal attempts and the fewest three-point attempts in the league. Detroit also leads the league in fewest opponent makes per game from deep. The Pistons are also excellent at not giving up second-chance points, so the path to success for the Blazers seems clear: make your shots and see if you can open up the game a bit with some transition baskets. If the Blazers can control the tempo and shoot well, the starters might well not see much of the court in the fourth quarter. If it is a low-scoring game, Detroit is more than capable of coming away winners.

What they’re saying

Dana Gauruder for the Detroit Free Press writes that acquiring 35-year-old Zaza Pachulia last summer has paid off for the Pistons:

Pachulia hasn’t just been a sage voice in the locker room. He’s appeared in 57 games as Andre Drummond’s primary backup, averaging 4.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 13.6 minutes. He recorded his first double-digit outing of the season against Toronto on Sunday, providing 11 points in 13 minutes.

The Pistons seemed to be going in the wrong direction, but Sean Deveney of Sporting News is giving plenty of credit to Coach Dwane Casey for turning things around:

It would not have been a surprise at that point if a giant hook had appeared and yanked Casey off the stage. The Pistons were unraveling for much of December and January, yet Casey kept talking about the playoffs, even talking about a Finals trip. He seemed to be off his rocker.

Here we are, though, a little more than two months later, and Casey has turned the tide with this team, even after it shipped off two rotation players — Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock — at the trade deadline for long-term projects Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk.

He’s only had 18 games with the Pistons, but the club likes what they see from Thon Maker according to Keith Langlois of NBA.com.

“Thon’s one of the grittiest guys on our team,” Casey said after his contributions to the Phoenix win. “Defensively, he used his length all over the place. He’s one of those kids you don’t have to say ‘giddyup’ to. He’s always ready to go. We needed that when we were in mud defensively.”

Casey thinks there’s a lot more to squeeze from Maker, a project that will begin in earnest not long after the Pistons season ends – he hopes after a few more playoff series.