Pistons at Jazz Game Preview
After a miserable start to this season, the Detroit Pistons have quietly moved into contention for a playoff berth. A grueling stretch over the next 19 days might determine whether they can remain competitive in that race.
Detroit will play its next 10 games in 10 different cities beginning with Monday night's visit to the Utah Jazz, who haven't lost a home game to the Pistons in nearly a decade.
Detroit (15-26) opened its first season under coach Lawrence Frank by losing 20 of 24 but has won 11 of 17 heading into Monday's game. That stretch has helped the Pistons draw within three games of eighth-place New York in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit recorded its third straight win, one shy of matching a season high, with a 105-86 victory over visiting Toronto on Saturday. After winning the first two games of its streak by a combined four points, the Pistons had six players score in double figures and shot 52.7 percent against the Raptors.
Rodney Stuckey led the way with 20 points and has averaged 22.8 on 51.9 percent shooting over the past five games.
He'll try to continue that success in the opener of a season-high, five-game trip. The Pistons return home March 23 to face Miami and head out for four more road games March 24-30. Detroit is 3-15 on the road, where it has lost three straight.
"We've been playing really good basketball. We've got to continue to keep playing like that," Stuckey told the team's official website. "It'll be a test, but I think we're up for the challenge."
The Pistons usually haven't been ready to play in Utah, having dropped 19 of 21 there dating back to the start of the 1989-90 season. They have also lost in their last eight visits but suffered a close defeat in their previous trip to Salt Lake City on Jan. 3, 2011.
Tayshaun Prince had 26 points in that game but the Jazz had six in double figures during a 102-97 victory. One of those players was Raja Bell, who scored five points over the final minute.
Bell also scored in double figures in Detroit on Feb. 26, 2011, but couldn't prevent the Pistons from ending an 11-game skid in the series. Stuckey had 28 points and made a key steal in the final minute to lead his team to a 120-116 win.
Paul Millsap had a team-best 23 points for Utah in that game and led the way with 26 in Chicago on Saturday. However, he couldn't keep the Jazz from suffering a second straight defeat, 111-97, to end its five-game trip with a 2-3 record.
"They're just a better basketball team," Millsap said. "Their defensive philosophy, they get at it, they stick to what they do. Offensively, they set screens for each other, help each other out. Things we want to get to for the future."
Starting guard Devin Harris missed that game with a stomach virus and Bell was away for undisclosed reasons. Coach Tyrone Corbin deemed it "an internal matter" and hoped to resolve it soon.
While that gets sorted out, the Jazz (19-21) will try to make a push in the West playoff race. They'll face three sub-.500 opponents over the next four games and play three of four at home, where they're 14-6.
Utah will try to get some help from Millsap to get that stretch off to a strong start. The forward has averaged 18.7 points on 67.7 percent shooting (21 of 31) and 10.0 rebounds over the last three games against Detroit.