Pistons vs. Mavericks preview: Can the Pistons handle the Luka Doncic Show?

Detroit Bad Boys

Believe it or not, the Detroit Pistons have the NBA to themselves tonight as they welcome the Dallas Mavericks in a rare one-game night for the association.

Now, if you’re thinking, “Wow, does that mean we get a rare TNT or ESPN appearance?!?” then I’m sorry to go breaking your heart. Detroit and Dallas will face off on NBA TV — fake National TV, as I like to say — in a game between two teams in different places, but each looking to figure out how to get on the right track.

Game Vitals

When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Watch: NBA TV + Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +8


Coming off their worst loss of the season — a 140-110 defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks — the Pistons are in a weird spot. You can argue that they’re playing better, with two wins in their past five and four highly-competitive games in that span. It’s a low bar, but until the debacle against New York, Detroit was rounding into form a bit.

But when you allow 140 points in a game where the opposition’s best player — Julius Randle, who scored 37 in three quarters — doesn’t even play in the fourth, it feels like taking two steps back.

So, of course, the get-right spot comes against who many believe is the MVP frontrunner in Luka Doncic. The Mavericks’ do-it-all star has been his usual self, averaging 33.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game on the heels of a 41-point, 12-rebound, 12-assist effort against Golden State on Tuesday.

But the thing about the Mavericks, who are just 10-10, is they need THAT version of Luka nightly.

Dallas has dropped six of its past 10 games, and in the four wins Doncic has scored 33 or more points. He’s got three triple-doubles in that span, further illustrating how great he’s been, but Dallas has yet to win a game this season when Luka scores fewer than 30 points.

That’s the very literal definition of “guy who is probably the most valuable player.”

It comes down to the inconsistency of the other Dallas players. Luka is a generational talent, and what he did to get that team to the Western Conference Finals last season was incredible, but you could argue that each member of his supporting cast, Spencer Dinwiddie, Christian Wood, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith, are all best suited as fourth or fifth starters on a title team.

Instead, they rotate as the second and third bananas, depending on the night.

Wood, a familiar face in Detroit, has been particularly up and down. His 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game are impressive off the bench, but it’s been a Jekyll and Hyde season as he’s been invisible far too often. The same goes for Dinwiddie, another former Piston, who is better off as a sixth man than a starter — especially alongside the high-volume Doncic.

It’s worth pointing out that Wood has done well in “revenge” games against Detroit, the team that kept his career alive in 2020, averaging 19.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games.

But enough about the Mavs, what about the Pistons?

Detroit got Isaiah Stewart back after a multi-game absence against the Knicks and he promptly hit a career-best 5/9 threes in the loss. I’d expect him to keep hoisting tonight… and that might be needed with the ice-cold shooting of Saddiq Bey.

Bey came off the bench and missed all five of his threes last game and is now shooting just 27.2% from deep on the season. His regression has been startling, but also a trend over the past three seasons. I don’t think he’s as bad as he’s shown, but it needs to change.

Luckily for him, Dallas is one of the worst teams in the league against opposing small forwards, giving up a combined 20.7 points and 2.2 threes per game. The opportunity to get back on track and see some shots go down is there for Bey.

And if not, Bojan Bogdanovic could benefit as he’s average 19 points and 2.6 threes per game against the Mavericks (in 14 games including playoffs) since 2020.

The key, really, is defense. If the Pistons can swarm Doncic and make guys like Wood and Dinwiddie beat them, they’ll have a shot tonight. I know they lost by 30 last time out, but teams are rarely as bad as they look on their worst nights.

I’m not sure the Pistons will cover the 8-point spread, but I can see a universe in which this game is competitive. I can also see Doncic scoring a measly 25 points but finishing with yet another triple-double as the Mavericks cruise.

Such is life for the Pistons these days.

Projected Lineups

Detroit Pistons (5-18)

Killian Hayes, Isaiah Livers, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III

Dallas Mavericks (10-10)

Luka Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell

Question of the Day

What do you hope to see out of the Isaiah Stewart-Jalen Duren pairing over the next month?

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