2018-19 NBA Predictions: Detroit Pistons vs Washington Wizards
Monday, January 21st sees an encounter between the 9th and 10th best teams in the Eastern Conference. The Detroit Pistons (20-25) and Washington Wizards (19-26) are both inconsistent, though neither will feel they cannot earn a playoff berth this season in a topsy-turvy conference.
The big news going into this match is that the Pistons are likely not to have star center Andre Drummond available to feature. The 25-year-old is under concussion protocol watch, after being hit in the face last Friday night against the Miami Heat. He already missed their last-gasp defeat to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday evening and another absentee is point-guard Ish Smith (groin).
The Wizards are in both physical and psychological disarray. Having lost center Dwight Howard to back surgery after just nine games this season, the 33-year-old won't return until late February or early March. All-star point guard John Wall has been sidelined for the remainder of this campaign due to a sore left heel which requires surgery.
In November, word went out that they were prepared to blow up their roster - though only Kelly Oubre Jr. has been traded, in a surprising move to Phoenix for Trevor Ariza. While the Wizards were a playoff team last year, the Pistons are streaky and unpredictable - having started the season 14-6 and having only won four times since.
They will start this game having won four of their last ten and the manner of their buzzer-beater defeat by the Kings is sure to provide them with extra motivation to recover with a win in this one. The Wizards are 6-4 in their last ten, winning their last game against the New York Knicks 101-100 in London on Thursday evening.
Expectations for the Washington Wizards
The Wizards will rely heavily on Bradley Beal's attacking influence, as the shooting guard has been outstanding in Wall's absence on-court. Expect them to depend upon his ability to shoot and attack the basket, having accumulated a whopping 98 points in their last three games.
Despite this, they are also expected to struggle for rebounds as they are ranked 28th across the league - the Pistons are 14th overall in rebounding. Their best rebounder is Ariza, who is averaging 5.6 per game this season, although they encourage regular ball movement in looking for good shots, averaging 25.5 assists per game as a team.
Defensively, they disrupt passing lanes well averaging nine steals per game, which is an impressive fourth place across the league. With that in mind, expect them to defend the perimeter aggressively, trying to force the Pistons into making bad passes and consequently leading to good fast-break opportunities.
Expectations for the Detroit Pistons
Presuming Andre Drummond is medically cleared to play, you should expect the Pistons to rely on their interior offense - himself and Blake Griffin.
They will have an advantage on the offensive glass as the Wizards are collectively a poor rebounding team, particularly as they average 11.7 offensive rebounds per game as a team, which presents them more scoring opportunities to cut down deficits and open leads against opposition sides that wouldn't always be available.
The Wizards only shoot 33.8% from 3-point range, so the Pistons will look to limit them to regular perimeter shots - particularly as they average 50 points per game in the paint. Detroit average 15.1 turnovers per game so protecting the ball is a must, not least given the Wizards' aggressive defensive style.
Key players to watch out for
Since arriving in a trade from Phoenix, Ariza has played 15 games for the Wizards. Without Wall's presence, he's the team's second-highest scorer with 14.3 points per game and as previously mentioned, also their best rebounder too.
He contributes 4.5 assists and 1.7 steals as well, which are impressive for a 33-year-old who continues to fill out the stat sheet in multiple categories consistently. One way he could help contribute more is from behind the 3-point arc. Since arriving in Washington, Ariza is only shooting 30.6% from distance and the Wizards' three-point shooting struggles are clear to see.
Bradley Beal's scoring output will be important in deciding the Wizards' level of success here, particularly given his impressive numbers - averaging 24.9 points and five assists per game in an inconsistent Wizards side who have their work cut out to reach the playoffs again this year.
Led by All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, he's the Pistons' main man - averaging 26 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season. Their best creator and scorer, he notched up 38 despite their late defeat to the Kings and it's clear that both he and Beal will be doing their utmost to carry their respective sides.
Reggie Bullock is among those who will have to step up and provide help for Griffin, averaging 12.3 points per game on the season.
The Wizards are 14-8 at home, while the Pistons are 7-14 on the road and depend heavily on the frontcourt's production levels.
If Drummond is unable to play, the Wizards have an opportunity to attack the rim without fear of a persistent shot-blocker. It would also hamper Detroit's rebounding advantage, so with all of that in mind, I'm going to predict a 105-100 victory for the Washington Wizards.