On the verge of their longest winning streak in six seasons, the Detroit Pistons have yet to lose since releasing their highest paid player late last month.
Keeping things going could prove difficult during a more challenging slate of games, starting with the defending NBA champions Tuesday night.
The Pistons try to pick up a rare road win over the San Antonio Spurs, who are hoping to get Tony Parker back from injury.
Detroit (10-23) has looked like a completely different team since waiving Josh Smith on Dec. 22. The Pistons, who have won each of their last five games by an average of 18.2 points, are averaging 14.0 points more than they did before the shake-up and surrendering 10.9 fewer per game.
Aside from cutting ties with Smith, Detroit’s recent surge can largely be attributed to Brandon Jennings’ play. The sixth-year guard has averaged 21.6 points on 55.8 percent shooting during the winning streak after averaging 7.6 on 28.3 percent shooting over his previous 10 games.
Jennings scored a season-high 35 on 14 of 21 from the field in Sunday’s 114-95 victory over Sacramento. The Pistons haven’t won six straight since a seven-game run Dec. 23, 2008-Jan. 4, 2009.
"I love not only the way he’s playing, but his whole attitude," coach Stan Van Gundy said of Jennings. "When he’s on the bench he’s encouraging guys. He’s into the game and he’s into the team. He’s trying a lot harder on the defensive end, it’s not just his offense now. In the last five games he has totally transformed."
While things seem to be looking up for the Pistons, four of the wins during their run have come against teams with losing records. Things aren’t likely to go as smoothly with upcoming matchups against Dallas and Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta after this game.
"I’m not going to say that teams are afraid to play us – there are several teams in the NBA who scare people more than we do," Van Gundy said. "But we’re playing very well right now."
The Pistons have dropped seven of 10 against the Spurs, including four straight on the road by an average of 19.0 points. Detroit has gone 6-22 at San Antonio since 1990, which includes the 2005 Finals
The Spurs (21-14) had lost seven of nine before posting back-to-back wins, 95-93 in overtime over New Orleans on Wednesday and 101-92 over Washington on Saturday. Cory Joseph scored 19 points against the Wizards to lead six players in double figures as the Spurs opened 2015 on the right foot after going 8-10 in December – their first losing month since February 1999.
Joseph has averaged 16.0 points on 70.0 percent shooting while starting the last five games in place of Parker, who’s listed as questionable due to a nagging hamstring injury.
"He’s tough-minded and a high-character guy," coach Gregg Popovich said of Joseph. "He’s gotten better every year, it’s just a matter of confidence. You see him taking shots and making moves that he hasn’t before, he feels more and more license to be aggressive."
San Antonio has split 14 games without Parker this season. He’s averaging 20.4 points on 55.0 percent shooting over his last nine in the series.
While Parker is nearing a return, Kawhi Leonard will miss an 11th consecutive game with a hand injury.
The Spurs have won 11 straight regular-season home games against the East, including six this season while allowing an average of 90.2 points.
Jennings has been limited to an average of 9.5 points and 26.8 percent shooting in four career visits to San Antonio.