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Thunder, Pistons meet in matchup of skidding teams

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One of the teams meeting in Detroit on Friday night will end a losing streak. The victor might not be doing itself a favor, however.

The Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder will participate in this year’s draft lottery, and the teams with the three worst records will have a 13.4 percent chance of getting the top pick.

Detroit, which is 16-39 and has lost three straight, has the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the third-worst overall. The Thunder (20-35) have taken a deep dive in the standings, losing eight straight and 11 of their past 12, and now own the league’s fifth-worst record.

The Pistons seemingly had their most recent game wrapped up, leading by 11 with fewer than five minutes remaining against the depleted Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. The Pistons were outscored 18-5 from that point, including the game’s last seven points, in their 100-98 loss.

It served as a training lesson for rookie point guard Killian Hayes, who helped the Pistons build their fourth-quarter lead from four to 11 points with four assists and a pull-up basket during the quarter. In crunch time, he missed three shots – including a potential game-winner – and committed a turnover.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey could have turned to a much more experienced hand in Cory Joseph, but the Pistons have a lot invested in Hayes, the seventh pick in last year’s draft. They want him to learn what it takes to protect a lead.

“That’s why I did it,” Casey said. “That’s what this year is about, as much as we hate losing, I hate losing. But he had a good run going. For him to get in those situations down the road is going to be invaluable.”

During their losing streak, the Pistons have experienced difficulty finishing quarters regardless of which players are on the floor. Forwards Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey made crucial turnovers in the final minute against the Clippers.

“We haven’t done a good job in the last two or three games of closing quarters, and same thing (Wednesday),” Casey said. “Somehow, we’ve got to find the focus, the intensity to close quarters without turning it over.”

Grant, Detroit’s leading scorer at 22.6 points per game, scored 28 points after missing the previous three games with a sore right knee.

Grant led seven Pistons in double figures in scoring with 21 points when Detroit pounded the Thunder 132-108 in Oklahoma City on April 5. The Pistons shot 51.6 percent from the field and led by as many as 27 points.

The Thunder are coming off an embarrassing performance at home in which they allowed 125 points in the first three quarters of a 147-109 loss to Golden State on Wednesday.

Oklahoma City lost at Utah by 10 points the previous night.

“We don’t want to use the back-to-back as an excuse. We’ve learned these lessons,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “I thought we started the game really well, but we didn’t sustain it for 48 (minutes).”

Center Moses Brown was a bright spot, supplying 18 points and 12 rebounds against the Warriors.

“Even through the lows of the game, he burned himself out (Wednesday), so he was a positive,” Daigneault said. “He’s got to keep growing.”

–Field Level Media

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