Pistons kick off tough road stretch tonight vs. Pelicans

Who: Detroit Pistons (23-36) @ New Orleans Pelicans (32-28)

When:  8:00 pm, FSD / Detroit Sports 105.1 FM

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

What to Watch For:

1. The Brow is Back?

After missing the past five games with a right shoulder strain, Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis could return tonight against the Pistons. While still a game-time decision, the return of Davis would be critical for New Orleans as they currently sit one game back of the Oklahoma City Thunder in for the 8th spot in the Western Conference Playoff race.

Despite losing their best player, the Pelicans have actually gone 5-0 since Davis went down, much in part thanks to point guard Tyreke Evans carrying the offensive load and frontcourt players Omer Asik and Alex Ajinca stepping up big time while carrying major minutes.

Davis returning sooner rather than later not only means good things for the Pelicans, but trouble for the Pistons. If Davis does return, the Pistons starting frontcourt of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe will have their hands full. Davis is top-5 in the league in scoring (23.9 ppg) & blocks (2.67 bpg) and top-10 in rebounds (10.3 rpg).

There’s still a chance Davis doesn’t play tonight, and for the Pistons sake, hope he doesn’t.

2. The Final Stretch  

Despite a three-game losing streak, the Pistons are still just 2.5 games back of the Brooklyn Nets for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for Detroit, they have a brutal schedule coming up. The Pistons play six of their next seven games on the road, including matchups against Western Conference powers such as the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers. Even the one home game in that stretch, a matchup against the Charlotte Hornets,  could have monumental playoff implications come the end of the season.

The playoffs are still a possibility, but it’s going to be difficult. Along with the current roadtrip, the Pistons play 14 of their final 23 on the road to finish the year. For a team that’s only 11-16 away from the Palace, that could mean trouble.

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If Detroit really wants to make a late run towards the 7th or 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, it’s going to come down to road victories. That’s certainly not the most reassuring thing, but with the final 15 games of the season against Eastern Conference opponents, the Pistons will have all the opportunities needed to jump those teams in front of them.

3. Revenge Game 

The last time these two teams faced off was January 14th at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pistons were riding their post-Josh Smith high and had won 10 of 11 heading into their matchup with the Pelicans. New Orleans, though, manhandled Detroit, winning 105-94 behind 27 points and 10 rebounds from Anthony Davis.

Granted, this is a much different Pistons team now than it was on Jan. 14, as Brandon Jennings has since been lost to a season-ending Achilles injury and reserves D.J Augustin, Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome have all been shipped out with Reggie Jackson, Tayshaun Prince and Shawne Williams now being part of the fold.

Despite the changes, much remains the same as the Pistons travel to New Orleans for the squad’s second and final matchup of the season. At the end of the day, for the Pistons to win they’re going to need to limit Davis (if he plays) as much as possible. If he sits, look for Drummond and Monroe to carry a heavy load on the offensive end and consistently take it at Asik and Ajinca to try and get both big men in early foul trouble.

Both the Pelicans and the Pistons are fighting for their playoff lives at this point in the season and every game matters just as much as the next. In terms of talent, these two teams are fairly evenly matched, and the difference in the game could just be what the status is of “The Brow.”

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