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Final countdown commences for Pistons’ pursuit of postseason play

Winners of five of their last six games, the men from Motown have ten chances left to catch their competitors for an Eastern Conference playoff berth

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit fans may need extensive physical therapy for whiplash as their team races toward the finish line of the 2014-15 NBA season. First they went from being a huge disappointment (5-23) to the hottest team in the league (17-26 due to a 12-3 streak). When Brandon Jennings went down, they stumbled to a 6-7 record (23-33), before commencing a 10-game slide in the "Reggie Jackson Era" (23-43). Now, as a result of their latest turnaround, the Pistons stand at 28-44, straining to narrow the gap between themselves and Boston, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Indiana for the eighth seed.

Clearly it’s anyone’s guess how Detroit will fare over their final ten regular season contests. After losing four straight games on a road trip west, the Pistons surprised a strong Memphis team on its visit to The Palace. Then after another frustrating loss to Philadelphia on the road, Detroit strung together four impressive victories over Chicago, Boston, Toronto and Orlando. While going 5-5 was better than might have been expected, it still leaves a lot of ground to make up in the next two weeks.

Take a look ahead

The Pistons will be blessed with a friendlier schedule that features five home games and only three opponents with winning records. All told, their foes average winning percentage is .483, but even that is skewed by those three top teams. The remaining seven are winning at a .327 rate that is worse than Detroit’s .389. In addition to two games against Miami, which has a tenuous hold on the seventh seed, the Pistons face Charlotte twice and Boston and Indiana once each. Since those three are also battling for the eighth spot, victories in those games will count double for Detroit. It’s not inconceivable that the chase could go down to the last game of the season on April 15. So file your taxes early just in case our game with the Knicks ends up mattering!

Game 73 (Sun., Mar. 29): Pistons at Heat

Detroit will still be missing Greg Monroe from its line-up, but Miami’s frontline has been decimated by injuries. Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts are out for the season, and both Chris Anderson and Hassan Whiteside are questionable for this match. The 33-39 Heat are 5-5 over their last 10. They lost on the road to Atlanta Friday night while the Pistons were downing the Magic. This game will feature a duel between two point guards who changed teams in February – Reggie Jackson and Goran Dragic. Detroit coasted to a 108-91 victory at home in early February, and with the same result would match its win total for each of the last two years – and give Coach Stan Van Gundy his 400th career conquest.

Advantage: Pistons

Game 74 (Tues., Mar. 31): Hawks at Pistons

Detroit has lost all three of its previous matches with Atlanta, which recently suffered its first three-game losing streak of this season. The Pistons lost at The Palace by just three points in early January, so perhaps they can challenge the East’s best team this time, too. Bench nemesis Mike Scott is out with a broken toe, so former Piston Austin Daye has been added to their roster. A triumph over the currently 55-17 Hawks would be a huge boost to Detroit’s playoff aspirations – and would give their fans hope that a first round playoff series would not end with a 4-0 drubbing.

Advantage: Hawks

Game 75 (Wed., Apr. 1): Pistons at Hornets

These teams have split their season series so far, with the visitors winning each time. Now at 30-41, Charlotte is just narrowly ahead of Detroit, making this game especially critical to both squads. The return of Kemba Walker and the acquisition of Mo Williams have bolstered their backcourt. No fooling – a healthy Monroe could be a difference maker for the Pistons.

Advantage: Hornets

Game 76 (Fri., Apr. 3): Pistons at Bulls

Detroit owns a 2-1 series edge over 44-29 Chicago, but the home team has held serve each time. Derrick Rose’s injury has shorthanded their backcourt, while they enjoy a surplus of talent upfront in Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Nicola Mirotic and Joachim Noah. To date they are just 7-7 for March, but five of those losses have come on the road. This will be a "Good Friday" for one of these teams, but which one?

Advantage: Bulls

Game 77 (Sat., Apr. 4): Heat at Pistons

Detroit will conclude a week that began in Miami by welcoming the Heat back to The Palace. The Pistons will be coming off yet another back-to-back, while Coach Erik Spoelstra’s charges will have enjoyed a day’s rest after a Thursday night game in Cleveland. While almost every game will be a must-win for Detroit, they certainly cannot afford to let this one slip away.

Advantage: Pistons

Game 78 (Wed., Apr. 8): Celtics at Pistons

Detroit fans get to welcome back Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome to their first NBA home, as their favorites face off against the franchise that has been holding down the eighth seed of late. The Pistons triumphed 105-97 in overtime when they last met in Boston, but both Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas were nursing injuries. Assuming Detroit has made up some of the ground separating these two prior to this match, a victory tonight could make the final week of games a neck-and-neck race. The Celtics have a tough schedule to close the season, so don’t be surprised if they falter down the stretch.

Advantage: Pistons

Game 79 (Fri., Apr. 10): Pacers at Pistons

Indiana recently endured a six-game losing streak, which followed a seven-game winning streak! Detroit holds a 2-1 lead in the series, but lost the last one in Indianapolis. Speculation that Paul George will return continues, but it’s still unknown whether he will get on the floor and contribute at this late date. If their playoff hopes are still alive, a win will be essential for the Pistons.

Advantage: Pistons

Game 80 (Sun., Apr. 12): Hornets at Pistons

Detroit hosts the fourth and final game of this series, with either a playoff spot or lottery odds on the line. Like all their games in this final week, this one will either mean everything or nothing.

Advantage: Pistons

Game 81 (Mon., Apr. 13): Pistons at Cavaliers

Cleveland has won the last two matches, but way back in late December Detroit rolled to a 103-80 victory. The Cavs continued to struggle until mid-January, then ran off 12 straight triumphs and have been one of the NBA’s best ever since. With the second seed securely in their possession, Cleveland could rest some of its starters, which might help the home team.

Advantage: Cavaliers

Game 82 (Wed., Apr. 15): Pistons at Knicks

Among the 10 straight losses that Detroit suffered after the All-Star break, none was more humiliating than their double-overtime defeat at the hands of New York, the NBA’s worst team. If making the playoffs is still a possibility, the Pistons will have to beware of a Knicks team that will be eager to play the spoiler. If not, this night could finally be (Quincy) Miller time!

Advantage: Pistons

What can we expect?

If this season has taught us anything, it’s that this Detroit team defies all expectations. Nevertheless, with six of their final games against teams that are also jockeying for a ticket to the postseason, the Pistons are largely in control of their own destiny. Hang on to your hats – this ride could get bumpy! But at least no one can complain that this season has been boring!

What are your projections for the Pistons next 10 games? For our final poll, you get two choices – playoffs or the lottery. Vote what you think and then share your reasons in the comments.