As Kriz explored yesterday, the Pistons are between a rock and a hard place -- a clearly bad team that is both not good enough to make the playoffs while too good to keep its upcoming draft pick, which will go to the Charlotte Bobcats if the pick lands ninth or lower.
But instead of focusing on the "to tank or not to tank" question, instead lets just look at the cold hard facts of the upcoming schedules and recent play of a number of teams.
Detroit is three games back from the final playoff spot in the East and the right to be annihilated by either the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat. To put that in perspective, the Pistons are closer to the fourth-worst record in the NBA than they are to the playoffs.
Detroit is 2-8 in its past 10 and are getting outscored by 6.7 points per game. The Pistons have gained ground on every team below them except for the free-fall Philadelphia 76ers, who have lost 16 in a row. Of the team's 19 remaining contests, it has eight clearly winnable games against fellow lottery teams -- Sacramento, at Denver, at Utah, Cleveland, at Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston and at Cleveland. Having three of those games on the road makes wins slightly more difficult.
The New York Knicks are on a three-game winning streak, have gone 3-7 in its past 10 games and have a -4.9 point differential in that span. New York also has seven extremely winnable games in its next eight contests. The Knicks face Philly, at Boston, Milwaukee, then will get annihilated by the Pacers before playing at Philly, Cleveland, at Los Angeles and at Sacramento.
From there things get harder, but they might be playing teams that have already locked up playoff positioning and might be largely resting their star players. Overall the team has the fifth-easiest schedule remaining.
The playoff-or-bust Cavs have largely gone bust, but they haven't gone down in flames on a Detroit level. The Cavs are 3-7 in its past 10 with a -4.2 mark in that span. Unfortunately, they're schedule is about to get much tougher and will probably knock the last remaining playoff aspirations the team might have. Cleveland plays at Phoenix, at Golden State, at LA Clippers, Miami, OKC, and Houston.
Things ease up from there and the team has the 19th-hardest schedule remaining, but much of that cream puffery could be coming when the team is in full-on tank mode. Winnable games in the second half of their remaining schedule includes two games against Detroit, at Orlando, at Atlanta, at Milwaukee and Boston.
The Celtics just handed the Pistons their asses and have actually played decent ball lately. While they are 3-7 in the previous 10, the Celtics are a healthy 7-8 since the beginning of February with just a -0.6 differential in that span. Winnable games include tilts against the Knicks, at New Orleans, Philadelphia, at Detroit, at Atlanta, at Cleveland and at Philadelphia again. And the good teams that Boston plays aren't exactly the world-beaters of the NBA. Instead, they have a bunch of games against middling teams such as Brooklyn, Toronto and Washington. Not bad teams, mind you, but teams that could definitely have an off night.
The Western Dregs
Don't look for too much help from Utah, Sacramento or Los Angeles. Utah has seven winnable games remaining -- Atlanta, New Orleans, Orlando, Detroit, New York and LA Lakers all at home as well as road tilts against New Orleans and Denver. But the rest of the schedule is much tougher and the other games are nearly sure losers.
The Kings, meanwhile, have only five tank teams on their schedule -- at Detroit, at Philly, Milwaukee, New York, at New Orleans. Overall their schedule ranks the eighth-toughest remaining in the NBA. The Lakers also have five winnable games -- Orlando, New York, at Milwaukee, at Sacto and at Utah.
Finally, beware of the Denver Nuggets. Not only have they won only three of their past 15 games, but they sport a -11.7 point differential (second-worst in NBA) and play the league's toughest remaining schedule. Detroit currently has a 3.5-game advantage on them in the standings and that might provide just the cushion needed to keep them at bay because they are definitely in free fall mode.