Happy New Year, everybody!
It hasn’t been a great first half of the NBA season for us, but we did start to build some momentum heading into 2018. We won our last three plays with two Christmas Day winners and an outright ‘dog with Dallas over New Orleans.
The first play of this year features a Detroit Pistons team that is getting used to life without one of its starting guards, while welcoming the other back, against the Miami Heat, which can only hope the worst of their own injury problems are in the rearview mirror. The Heat are a three-point favorite at home in South Beach.
Detroit lost Reggie Jackson a week ago to a seriously sprained ankle. Ankle injuries can be tough, but the Pistons expect that he will be able to begin rehab in two weeks, once the swelling has subsided and the joint is stabilized.
Ish Smith has been starting in his place and has played well in the two games thus far, averaging 18 points, five rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in over 30 minutes per game. The Pistons lost the first game without Jackson down in Orlando. Then they made up for it with a 14-point win at home over the Spurs. This is their first game in the New Year.
What will be different in the third game is Avery Bradley starting next to Smith. Bradley has had a rough go of it through the holidays. He has missed the last seven games with a groin injury and been in the news for an alleged sexual assault that he has denied. He’s expected to play tonight, though.
Stan Van Gundy spoke about what will be different with Bradley playing next to Smith versus Jackson and focused mainly on defense. Jackson can guard bigger players, where the 6-foot Smith will be exploited. So whereas Bradley almost automatically picked up the opponent’s best scoring guard, he will be limited to the bigger of the two now. Tonight, that most likely means he will defend Tyler Johnson, instead of Goran Dragic.
That could be significant, as Dragic is coming off 38 minutes in his last game, the most minutes he’s played since the first month of the season, and 25 points. Then again, Johnson scored 31 to lead the team in the road win over Orlando.
Hassan Whiteside played 29 minutes in that game, the most he’s seen in the three games since returning from a knee injury that held him out 13 games. Miami is a different team with Whiteside in there. Kelly Olynyk no longer has interior responsibilities and can play freely on the perimeter, exploiting potential mismatches. Whiteside also gives the Heat an answer for Andre Drummond tonight.
The Pistons looked great in their last game without Jackson, but I’m still skeptical that they have an option they are confident in to get them baskets in the fourth quarter. Miami is still missing a couple key guys, but the Heat are healthier than they have been in at least a month and have plenty of time to improve their playoff positioning as we approach the halfway point of the season. Of the two teams, Miami is the one more apt to pull away if Detroit isn’t move the ball well or forcing turnovers.
Free Pick: Miami -3