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NBA Preview: Cade Cunningham enters tonight’s Pistons-Pelicans matchup playing best basketball of season

New Orleans has another opportunity to beat a mediocre team. Will they finally take advantage?

Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans will look to end a two-game skid against the Detroit Pistons, who are on 10-game slide themselves, inside the Smoothie King Center Friday evening.

The battle of cellar dwellers, some might say.

Although both teams reside at the bottom of their respective conferences, their situations should not be looked upon as all doom and gloom. There’s some very good young talent occupying both rosters. They just haven’t spent enough time together — or enjoyed good health — at the NBA level, unlocking the secret code on how to win regular season games.

Case in point, have a gander at the clutch-time W/L records. New Orleans is 1-9 in contests that are within five points of the lead or less during the last five minutes of regulation. Detroit, 3-9. That’s last and tied for third to last.

Washington Wizards v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

The Pistons are led by the first overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Cade Cunningham, whose season stat line is nothing to scoff at, has found another gear in Detroit’s past four games. Averages of 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.8 made threes scream All-Star, as do recent shooting splits (51.4 FG%, 55.6 3PT%, 83.3 FT%).

The franchise’s rookie is flanked by another strong producer in Jerami Grant. After a somewhat slow start to the season as well, he’s also turned it on of late, averaging 24.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists since November 21.

The Pistons are due to snap their current losing streak. If the Pelicans fail to exhibit winning basketball from the tip — keeping turnovers down to a manageable number and playing effective defense the vast majority of the time, another disappointing loss could be in store.

Turnovers are proving to be a strong barometer. When New Orleans has finished with 14 or less miscues, they’ve posted a 6-8 record. 15 and above, 1-12.

Another stat to watch: 3-point percentages. When an opponent has shot the deep ball at a higher clip, the Pelicans lose — they’re 0-15 when they’ve finished with a lower 3PT%.

If the Pelicans want to start building towards something greater, they’re going to need to start beating mediocre teams on a much more consistent basis. They’ve already whiffed on two opportunities in matchups against the Thunder (11/10/21) and Rockets (12/5/21).

Here’s to not seeing a third consecutive disappointing loss to begin this season.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (7-20) vs Detroit Pistons (4-20)

When: December 10, 2021, 7:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.