2016-NBA-Thursday night games preview

Pistons at Grizzlies

After seeing a three-game winning streak snapped by San Antonio at Tuesday, the Pistons visit Memphis in a one-off road game before they return home to welcome Golden State on Saturday night.

Reggie Jackson was stifled in shooting 3-for-13 from the field in the 109-99 loss to the Spurs, while Andre Drummond played 28 minutes because Stan Van Gundy feared the Hack-a-Shaq strategy would be used against him. Over the past six games, Drummond is 6-for-33 from the free throw line (18 pct) but has still managed to average 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in leading Detroit to a 4-2 mark.

Memphis is attempting to tread water without injured point guard Mike Conley, who may miss his fifth consecutive game with a sore left Achilles. They’ve gone 2-2 with him sidelined, coming off a 107-91 loss to Houston where the Rockets dominated the fourth quarter 35-22. Mario Chalmers will get major minutes and be forced to handle Jackson if Conley can’t go.

Three of Memphis’ games without Conley, one of the top defensive guards in the league, have gone over the posted total.

Cavaliers at Spurs

Not only is this a potential Finals preview, but offers an opportunity for the Cavs to prove something to themselves as they try and destroy San Antonio’s perfect 22-0 start in home games this season.

Coming off an OT win in Dallas, the Cavs bring an eight-game winning streak to the AT&T Center and are 9-1 with Kyrie Irving back in the lineup after his Dec. 20 return from a kneecap fracture suffered in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals.

Although he’s still working his way back into a rhythm, his mere presence has made LeBron James and Kevin Love more efficient. That trio is 42-5 when they take the floor together. With Irving on the floor this season, Cleveland has an offensive efficiency rating of 118.5 and a net efficiency of +17, which would both be league highs if he’d have been healthy all season. Call it a small sample size if you must, but the fact is the Cavs have continued to flourish despite Irving shooting 17-for-47 (36.2 pct) from the field over the last three games simply because of the attention he commands.

Irving’s counterpart, Tony Parker, comes off his highest-scoring game since March, scoring 31 points to lead the Spurs to their ninth straight win. Tim Duncan joined Parker and Manu Ginobili in participating in a back-to-back, but Gregg Popovich has done a brilliant job of keeping all his veterans minutes down.

Both James and Kawhi Leonard are playing at an All-NBA First team level, making their duel must-see TV. They’ve gone at it in multiple NBA Finals over the years, but are seeing each other for the first time this season, one in which Leonard has broken through to the truly elite level. Leonard is shooting 48 percent from 3-point range and averaging a career-best 20.2 points per game. He’s the reigning Defensive Player of the year.

The over has come through in five of the last six wins for both teams.

Kings at Jazz

Utah has not had Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert as part of its starting frontcourt since Nov. 30. The Jazz hope that streak ends tonight as Favors will look to return from a back injury that has kept him out since Dec. 26. Gobert returned from an MCL sprain on Jan. 7, having missed 18 contests in which his team went 7-11 and often fell apart defensively.

Favors has been testing his back out in pre-game warmups and determining whether he can play depending on how he feels, so expect that to continue. Gobert has averaged just 7.0 points and 5.25 rebounds since returning, but should be settling back in a rhythm. Gobert’s task in this one will be to slow down DeMarcus Cousins, who went for 23 points, 12 boards and six assists without the French 7-footer to contend with in Sacramento’s 114-106 win on Dec. 8.

The Kings landed six double-digit scorers in that game, taking advantage of a healthy lineup to shoot 55.8 percent. Rajon Rondo had 13 assists. Sacramento is chasing the Jazz for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff picture, entering this one two games back. The Kings have lost six of the last nine and have posted that same mark against the spread. The over has prevailed in five of their last six. The last three Jazz games have gone under the posted total.

Lakers at Warriors

Golden State fell in Denver last night, missing Draymond Green in coming out flat to start the game and after halftime. Not only is the NBA’s runaway leader in triple-doubles the Warriors emotional leader, but he’s also their best rebounder, so his absence resulted in a 49-39 disadvantage on the boards that helped the Nuggets secure a 112-110 win.

Stephen Curry scored 38 points in 39 minutes, dishing out nine assists to try and prevent the Warriors from falling to 36-3. Golden State still hasn’t lost a game where Curry, Green and Klay Thompson all participated, which is expected to be the case tonight since Green will be back after resting. The Dubs haven’t lost at Oracle Arena all season (18-0), but are just 9-9 against the number, which includes three consecutive non-covers in Oakland.

The Lakers have been crushed by the Warriors twice already this season, falling 111-77 at Oracle on Nov. 24 and 109-88 at Staples Center on Jan. 5. Kobe Bryant left L.A.’s 96-91 win over the Pelicans on Tuesday night with a sore Achilles. He traveled to the Bay Area with his team, but his availability for tonight’s game is unknown.

The Lakers are 2-6 after victories this season. Golden State is 2-0 after losses. The Warriors are 9-1 on the second night of a back-to-back. Their last four games have all gone over.