A Stan Van Gundy-led team missed the playoffs for the first time last year. Normally, all he would have to do in the East to get his team to the playoffs is get his team to play at least .500 ball. However, in a conference where the 10th place team is only three games behind the conference leader, more will need to be done. Here are three reasons why the Pistons will do what is needed to make it to the playoffs this year:
Beating East Elite
Looking at the standings will show you that the Pistons have won seven out of 12 games against the Eastern Conference. That is barely over .500. However, for teams in the East, that is tied for the fifth best winning percentage against the East. And those seven wins are nothing to sneeze at.
A 12-point win against the Atlanta Hawks on opening night. A grind-out win the following night against the Chicago Bulls who had beat the Cleveland Cavaliers the previous night. A 22-point win against the Indiana Pacers. A 23-point win against the Miami Heat. You also have wins over the Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Of the five losses the Pistons have against the Eastern Conference, the only inexcusable one may be the loss to the Brooklyn Nets (losing by four after starting the fourth quarter up by eight). Next may be the 21-point loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee. Then you have the loss to the Washington Wizards which came down to the final play of the game. Though losing by 20 points to the Charlotte Hornets sucks, the Hornets are not a bad team. They currently sit fourth in the conference and followed up their win against the Pistons with an 18-point win against the Heat and then a 24-point win against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Essentially, the Pistons have been able to hold their own against the teams with whom they will be fighting for playoff position. They have yet to face the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic or the New York Knicks. If the offense keeps clicking, they should be able to hold their own against them also.
Here's how the East stacks up against itself:
|New York Knicks||15||6||9||0.400|
Containing the West
The Pistons have played 14 games against Western Conference teams. That is the most of any team in the East. Having won seven of those games puts them at an even .500 on the season. That would put them in a tie with the Celtics and Knicks at eighth best win percentage against the West.
Here is how the East stacks up against the West:
|New York Knicks||10||5||5||0.500|
And let's be honest, that 7-7 record could/should be a lot better. The final three losses of the Pistons yearly West Coast road trip could have all very well been wins under any other circumstances. Losses to the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers hurt. The loss to the Los Angeles Clippers wouldn't be so bad had it not been for the fact that they were without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.
Two other losses against the West very well could have been wins, too. The Memphis Grizzlies escaped defeat thanks to a half court attempt (with more than enough time on the clock) by Matt Barnes that banked in with 1.1 seconds remaining. The Grizzlies won by one point. Then the Pistons' last game, another loss to the Clippers, came after the Pistons fought back valiantly only to see the Clippers take it in overtime by two points. Those are two close losses to two Western playoff perennials.
Their wins against the West have also been encouraging. After losing the first to the Lakers, the Pistons avenged themselves the next time, beating them by 20. They took both games against the Phoenix Suns. The Pistons also took down Karl-Anthony Towns and the surprising Minnesota Timberwolves, the now-surging Houston Rockets, and the Utah Jazz. Oh, and who can forget the amazing 41-11 fourth quarter by the Pistons to come back and beat the Portland Trail Blazers by 17 points.
Obviously the Lakers and the Timberwolves are not likely to make the playoffs. And right now, both the Suns and Blazers are standing at the door step, both at 11-15. The Jazz and Rockets are eighth and seventh respectively in the Western Conference Standings. The losses to the Grizzlies and Clippers are as close as you'll get to a moral victory, as they are both sixth and fourth respectively in the Western Conference Standings.
The Pistons only have 16 more games against the Western Conference, the fewest of any Eastern Conference team. However, they still have two games each against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks. They also have a game each against the Warriors, Thunder, Grizzlies and Rockets. So if they can escape their games against the West at an even .500, that will bode well for their playoff hopes.
Not all schedules are created equal. The Pistons are one of five teams with 20 back-to-back sets, the most of any team. So far this year, they have been one of six teams who have already played seven back-to-back sets. The most games played by any team so far is 26. That means that in a very short amount of time, the Pistons have played the most games and the most number of back-to-backs. That is brutal.
However, that provides hope. That means the Pistons will have more time to play fewer games and they now have nearly the same amount of back-to-back sets remaining as most teams do. This will provide them more time for practice and more time to recharge. Looking at the Pistons' "rest" days shows that the Pistons are 11-8 when they have at least one day of rest. They have often times looked tired. With them getting more time to play fewer games, that should bode well for them to get more wins than losses. Yay!
The Pistons are winning against the teams in the East they are going to jockey with for playoff position. They have played the most games against the Western Conference and have a .500 record. They have played the most games in the shortest time span with seven back-to-back sets, so the schedule will get easier. This all sounds lovely.
Using the small sample sizes of games against each conference, the Pistons project to win 48 games this year. That would barely nudge out the Hawks and Magic who project to have 47 wins. That would set them up for a 7-game series against the Cavaliers who project to win the Eastern Conference with 61 wins.
However, anything can happen. Trades can happen. Injuries can happen. Though a lot of us suspect that Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks will help the team, specifically the bench, when they come back, there is no guarantees.
How do you feel about the Pistons chances to make the playoffs? Let us know the reasons you suspect they will or won't make the playoffs this year.
[Ed. Note: According to numberFire, the Pistons have a 61.1% chance at this point in the season. NumberFire ranks the Pistons 11th in all of the NBA in their power rankings.]