Detroit — One of these days, Luka Doncic will play in Detroit.
Maybe by that time, the Pistons will have their own Luka-like talent to lean on.
Doncic sat out with an injury Thursday, but the result still worked out favorably for both franchises.
The 115-105 Dallas victory helped keep the Mavericks out of play-in position and kept Detroit’s lottery hopes stay on course.
With Michigan alum Jalen Rose courtside Thursday, two more former Wolverines led the Mavs to the win.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored a career-high 42 points, including 18 straight for his team late. Trey Burke added 15 points for Dallas, who capitalized on Detroit mistakes down the stretch.
“Experience,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “This time next year, when we go through these games, playing as hard as we did defensively…down the stretch, that’s where the mistakes were made. That’s where young players usually make young mistakes.
“Experienced players won’t make those mistakes.”
Hardaway and the Mavs showed the blueprint of where the Pistons hope to be down the road.
For now, only nine games remain for Detroit, which entered the night knotted with Minnesota and Orlando with 19 wins, second-lowest in the league. Seven of Detroit’s remaining games are at home.
Dallas is trying to hold off Portland for the No. 6 spot out West, which would keep the Mavs out of the new play-in format.
Doncic, drafted No. 3 in 2018, will lead the Mavs into the playoffs, looking to get out of the first round for the first time since winning the title in 2011 when Casey was on former Pistons coach Rick Carlisle’s staff.
One of the league’s young cornerstones, Doncic will be expected to help carry the NBA’s torch whenever LeBron James slows down.
But for the second time in as many regular-season visits to downtown Detroit, Doncic was a spectator. The 22-year-old Slovenian was dressed in a retro Air Jordan warmup suit. A handful of No. 77 jerseys were spotted in Little Caesars Arena, including one fan courtside who got a picture with Doncic after the game.
Doncic did play at one Pistons “home” game, a 2019 game in Mexico City. His 34.3 points per game in three meetings with Detroit is the most for him against any team by an average of 3 points. Doncic had played 17 straight games before sitting out Thursday.
Meanwhile, Pistons rookie Isaiah Stewart handled Kristaps Porzingis in the first half, despite giving up 7 inches to the 7-foot-3 Latvian former All-Star.
Porzingis left the game in the second half, and former Piston Boban Marjanovic was next for Stewart. In this battle, he was giving up 8 inches.
Stewart actually blocked a Marjanovic hook shot, one of three blocked shots for the rookie.
“Just beat them with my physicality, I say,” Stewart said of his approach against the taller opponents. “They’re two different types of players. I just wanted to make both of them feel uncomfortable.”
Stewart put the depleted Pistons were in position late for their second straight win.
Playing without Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Wayne Ellington, Cory Joseph, Rodney McGruder and Dennis Smith Jr., the Pistons had an 18-8 run in the third quarter to draw even, 79-79.
The teams dueled in the fourth with a pair of Stewart 3-pointers putting the Pistons ahead twice down the stretch.
His second put Detroit up 102-101 with 3:07 to play.
But Hardaway was just too much down the stretch, answering the Stewart 3-pointers with three foul shots both times after Stewart committed the fouls.
“We just have to play better defense,” Stewart said. “We made the big shot, but we have to come down and make stops. That’s the guy they’re going to, so we just have to key in.”
Hardaway added a late 3-pointer to end his scoring night that sealed the deal.
Stewart had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons, and Frank Jackson also scored 20.
Saddiq Bey had 18 points, Sekou Doumbouya had 14, Josh Jackson scored 13 points, Hamidou Diallo netted 10, while Killian Hayes had 11 assists.
The Pistons play at Charlotte on Saturday night, trying to break an 11-game losing streak to the Hornets.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.