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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons

The Spurs head to Motown to kick off a brief, three-game road trip.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Detroit Pistons thus far. They kicked off the year with an impressive 14-6 start, which included marquee road victories over the Warriors and Celtics. But since the calendar flipped to December, the Pistons have tumbled to a 5-9 record. That once promising beginning felt like more of a fluke than anything else.

Detroit is nearing a fork in the road for their season: can they push for a high seed in the eternally-weak Eastern Conference or are they doomed to another year of mediocrity?

San Antonio Spurs (25-11) at Detroit Pistons (19-15)

December 30, 2017 | 6:00 pm CDT

Watch: FSSW; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Spurs injuries: Rudy Gay (heel)

Pistons injuries: Reggie Jackson (ankle), Jon Leuer (ankle)

Offensive inconsistency

If the Pistons want to get back in the thick of things, it has to start on this end of the floor, where the offense has been subject to high variability: in wins, they average 109.3 ppg, compared to only 94.0 in losses. That difference is absolutely staggering. For perspective, their offense in wins is good enough for sixth in the league and well below dead last in their losses.

Usually it’s difficult to pinpoint the source of such problems, but my goodness is it abundantly clear in this case. Tobias Harris, their leading scorer, shoots 49% from the field and 50% from three in wins. In losses, those numbers plummet to 40% and 34%. When Harris is hitting his shots, the Pistons are winning more likely than not.

The question, of course, is who is the real Tobias Harris? If we compare these win-loss numbers to his career averages, the results aren’t so promising for Detroit:

Tobias Harris offensive production

17-18 wins 50.2 52 63.1 23.4 20.8
17-18 losses 39.6 33.8 50.5 21.2 14.5
Career 46.7 34.7 55.4 21.7 14.1

It looks like Harris is due for some regression, especially in terms of his scorching three-point shooting. Tobias’ inconsistency is problematic for head coach Stan van Gundy, because there aren’t many other dependable ball-handlers on the roster, especially with Reggie Jackson sidelined for the next six to eight weeks. What has kept Detroit close in their cold shooting games is...

Impressive defense

Interestingly, we do not see much of a discrepancy in points allowed per game between wins (99.2) and losses (105.0). Several factors deserve credit for this consistency: SVG’s coaching, Anthony Tolliver’s unexpected contributions and Avery Bradley’s lockdown defense.

They still have room for improvement. Andre Drummond, in particular, has the physical stature to dominate the paint every night but is consistently plagued with foul trouble. Because of this, there is often an easy path to the rim and opponents seize the opportunity: Detroit allows the seventh highest field goal percentage within six feet of the hoop.

As solid as Detroit’s defense has been and brilliant as it could be, it will likely not propel them into the NBA’s top tier. The Pistons have had similar defensive statistics for the past four seasons with just one playoff appearance (a first round exit) to show for it. They need their offense, particularly Harris to knock down shots. If he can’t tonight, it could be another rough night in a miserable month for Detroit.

Matchup to watch: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Andre Drummond. This should be an intriguing matchup if only to see two diametrically opposing play styles face off against one another. On a rudimentary level, Drummond is a hulk of a man who’s looking to add more finesse to his game, while Aldridge is a cerebral player being asked to ramp up the aggression. Andre is a notoriously atrocious defender and LMA famously hates battling bulky bigs in the paint, so expect some impressive offensive stats from these two tonight.

Vegas line: Spurs by 6.

Game prediction: Spurs by 5.

For the Pistons fan’s perspective, visit Detroit Bad Boys.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

As always, PtR's Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR's Twitter feed.