Utah Jazz vs. Detroit Pistons: Keys to the Game

Jan 25, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks the ball on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks the ball on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

The Utah Jazz have several advantages over the Detroit Pistons in tonight’s contest and should be able to utilize them to log a comfortable win.

After a tough road trip which saw the Utah Jazz go 2-3, losing three tightly contested games, the team was able to bounce back in a big way as they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday in their first game of a three-game home stand.

It was an impressive team victory that saw King James notch his sixth straight loss in Salt Lake City as a total team effort was led by Gordon Hayward with 28 points to go along with five other Jazzmen who finished in double figures. It was a great confidence builder that will hopefully get the Jazz officially back on track as they prepare to host the Detroit Pistons tonight.

Fortunately for Utah, they’ll be coming into tonight’s contest off of two days rest while Detroit is coming in on the fourth game of a five-game road trip and the second night of a back-to-back after taking on Golden State late last night in what was a tough loss for the Pistons.

The Pistons are just 2-5 on the second nights of back-to-backs so far this season so that bodes well for a Jazz team that ought to have fresh legs and renewed confidence.

But the Jazz will still have to be prepared as this Detroit team is one that can be dangerous despite their misleadingly poor record of 18-23. They were a playoff team last season and have a number of talented guys on the squad. Detroit boasts a sturdy defense and though their offense typically struggles to put up points, when they get it going they can be hard to stop.

In fact, interestingly enough in wins this season, the Pistons are outscoring opponents by a staunch 15.2 points and shoot a scorching 40.7 percent from deep as compared to 29.8 percent in losses. That’s a pretty wide margin meaning that they can be a tough out when they’re clicking on offense.

Thus the Jazz will have their work cut our for them and will have to be honed in on both ends of the court if they hope to come away with a win and initiate a brand new winning streak.

Key Match-up – Gordon Hayward and Tobias Harris

Tobias Harris is perhaps the Pistons most versatile player and the guy who has been their biggest X-factor. At his best he can give you 20-point nights with ease, stuff the stat sheet and play respectable defense but unfortunately his down swings are quite prominent as bad shooting nights are fairly common for the six-foot-nine forward.

Just as the Pistons have been great in their wins and dismal in their losses, Harris has very much followed suit. In wins this season he’s averaging 18.2 points on red-hot 53.5 percent shooting from the field and 42.3 percent from deep. However in losses, he’s at 15.2 points per game at a much less efficient clip of 43.8 percent from the field (which isn’t awful) and 28.4 percent from behind the arc (which IS awful).

Thus as Harris goes, so do the Pistons typically tend to go as well. Thus Gordon Hayward will need to do his part to slow down Detroit’s streaky forward and force him into having one of his relatively common off nights. On the Jazz’s side, Hayward has been red hot in his past two games, averaging 25 points while shooting 70 percent from behind the arc.

He’s a better overall scorer and shooter than Harris so if he can match that productivity and put up a similar game to what he’s done in his latest two games while keeping Tobias in check on the defensive end, then Hayward should be able to win this individual battle.

And by doing so, based on how much worse the Pistons play when Harris struggles, Hayward will very likely put his team in a position to log a victory as well.

Key Stat – Three-Point Percentage

Although the Detroit Pistons rank just 24th in the league in three point percentage at 34.4 percent, as I mentioned earlier they still have the ability to light it up from behind the arc and when they have done so, they’ve been tough to beat. In wins they’re shooting 40.7 percent which is tied for sixth best in the league.

To put that in a little perspective, the Cavaliers, despite holding the second best three-point percentage overall in the league, actually rank below the Pistons in three-point shooting percentage in wins as they come in at 40 percent. Therefore, while Detroit struggles to score and convert more often than not, the rare wins they have logged have come largely due to extreme success from the three-point line.

So it will be an absolute key for the Jazz to keep them in check on the perimeter. That can be a tough task, however, as Detroit does boast some sharpshooters not only in the streaky Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson but more so in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Beno Udrih who lead the team with percentages of 40.4 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Detroit Pistons
NBA: Chicago Bulls at Detroit Pistons /

But fortunately for the Jazz, their own three-point shooting has been greatly improved lately as they now find themselves at eighth in the league converting at a 36.9 percent clip. They’ve been especially good in the last two games as they’ve managed to shoot upwards of 38 percent in both contests.

Therefore, there’s a good chance that whoever wins the battle from beyond the arc will find themselves in position to win the game. Fortunately for the Jazz, their offense has been versatile enough to find ways to win this season even when those shots aren’t dropping, but in the case of the Pistons, if the threes aren’t falling, their lackluster offense tends to struggle to find a way to score. Thus it will be vital that the Jazz prevent open looks and shut them down in this regard.

Key Performer – George Hill

Although George Hill hasn’t looked quite as formidable since returning from the concussion and lip laceration, he’s still been solid and steady for the Jazz while providing his usual calm demeanor and reliable presence on the floor.

And given the fact that he’ll be matched up against Reggie Jackson who isn’t exactly known for his lockdown defense, Hill should be in position to have a great game.

Yet, although he has played in just 20 games for the Pistons so far this season, Reggie Jackson is the team’s leading scorer and one of their more dynamic threats. Heading into Thursday’s game against the Warriors, Jackson was averaging 16.9 points on the season and is a respectable shooter at 44.1 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from deep.

However, surprisingly his return to the Pistons lineup after missing the beginning of the year with a knee injury has been less than stirring. In his 20 games back, the Pistons have gone just 7-13. At 2.5 turnovers per game, he hasn’t been extremely efficient at running Detroit’s offense and therefore Hill’s length will likely make life miserable for him at the defensive end.

With Hill enjoying such a critical advantage over the Pistons’ starting point guard on both ends of the floor, there’s a good chance that he will have a big night both by flustering the opposing team’s leading scorer and by producing several points of his own on offense.

Prediction – Jazz 96, Pistons 84

With both teams being sturdy defensive squads that boast solid rim protectors in Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Detroit’s Andre Drummond, I expect this to be a relatively low-scoring and grind-it-out affair. Therefore, given that Utah’s defense is notably better and the Pistons offense struggles to put up points, I’m going to stick with my prediction from earlier in the week and pin the Jazz as winners by a score of 96-84.

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Considering how well Utah matches up with Detroit at each roster spot in the starting lineup, how much their defense should be able to disrupt the Pistons’ shooting and finally the fact that Detroit is coming in on the second night of a back-to-back after a disheartening road loss to the Warriors, there aren’t a lot of reasons why the Jazz should struggle to come away with a win.

With so many closely fought bouts lately, it would be nice to see the Jazz notch a more comfortable victory. Of course, Utah can’t be caught unaware and will have to be locked in to prevent Detroit from getting hot, but I have a feeling that we could see the Jazz log one of their more convincing victories of the past couple months.

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And if that ends up being the case, hopefully it will help them continue to build confidence and also prepare them to turn around and defend home court once more as they’ll be in the second night of a back-to-back right away themselves as they host the Orlando Magic on Saturday night to close out the home stand.

Given the struggles that Orlando has faced so far this season, if Utah is able to beat Detroit tonight, then it’s likely that they’ll be in an excellent position to go a perfect 3-0 in their current three-game slate at home.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com