I'm overstating the question, really -- entering Tuesday's action, the Pistons are tied for 11th in the East, but with 80% of the season left to play, there's more than enough time (to say the least) to make up that single game that will get them in the postseason.
But can they still win a playoff series? That's a different question. Bob Ballard of It's Just Sports took a look at recent history to see just how deep of a hole 6-11 really is:
For the Pistons to have a realistic chance in advancing in the playoffs to the second round, they probably need to secure at least the Eastern Conference No. 5 seed. There, they will probably face the 2nd place team from the Southeast Division which will either be Orlando or Atlanta. Somehow, the Pistons match up well against both teams. Since the 2007-2008 season when the Hawks reached the playoffs, the Pistons are 12-2 vs. Orlando (including playoffs) and 5-3 vs. Atlanta.
The Pistons already have beaten Orlando earlier this season. They won, surprisingly, this past Sunday against Atlanta without Hamilton, Prince, and Gordon in the lineup.
The average number of wins the Eastern Conference No. 5 seed has had in this decade is 44. The Pistons would have to go 38-27 (.585) in their remaining 65 games to reach 44 wins. The playoffs are more than four months away, so the Pistons have time to get back on track. They cannot afford another long losing streak if they want to make an impact in this year’s playoffs.
To put winning 58.5% of the time in perspective, that's the equivalent of a 47-win season -- it's feasible, but difficult, at least so long as key members of the rotation are lost to injury every other game.
For what it's worth, I think Bob might be overstating things at least a little -- if Detroit matches up with both Atlanta and Orlando, securing the sixth seed (and the right to face the Atlantic winner) should give them a fighting chance to escape the first round, as well. (Am I conceding a first-round loss against the Celtics or Cavs? At this point, I certainly am, though I suppose that might change over the next several months.)
Unfortunately, the Pistons don't operate in a vacuum, and it's just as easy to make a compelling argument for why the teams around them will either maintain their current pace or improve ...
The Bucks (currently the No. 6 seed) have been surprisingly solid behind rookie phenom Brandon Jennings, and they figure to get better once Michael Redd returns. The Bobcats (No. 7) were in the race up until fading at the end last season, and the Bulls (No. 9) can't be counted out. Also, a lot of people took for granted (myself included) that both the Raptors (No. 10 seed) and Wizards (No. 12) would make some noise, and that may still happen. Hell, even the 76ers (No. 13) might join the conversation if Allen Iverson returns with a vengeance. (Heh.)
Considering the competition, the Pistons are in pretty big hole with little to no margin for error. Extending Detroit's playoff streak would look nice in the record books, but if they can't even get out of the first round, it means nothing -- and, you could argue, might set the franchise back considering they won't have a chance at winning the draft lottery. (You think debating the merits of Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton is fun? Imagine being able to throw John Wall into the mix ...)
In no way am I suggesting the Pistons tank the season -- but those making the decisions need to remember that whether or not this year is viewed as a success will be based on player development, not the final record or playoff seed. This means we need more Austin Daye, more DaJuan Summers, and even more PT for Bynum, who's shown every sign of being just as much of a starting point guard prospect as Stuckey.