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NBA standings watch: The Pistons are facing an uphill battle for playoffs

There are six teams fighting for the seventh and eighth seeds of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Detroit Pistons have the toughest challenge.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons have not made it to the playoffs the last five seasons. In those five seasons, the closest they finished to the playoffs was seven games (the furthest was 14 games). As it stands right now, the Pistons are only 2.5 games out of the eighth seed and three games out of the seventh seed. They are fighting along with five other teams for those two spots. Of the six teams, the Pistons have the hardest battle.

Here is how the standings currently look for those six teams:

Now over at ESPN, John Hollinger had created a computer model to calculate based on his Power Rankings what the likelihood was of each team making it to the playoffs. As it stands right now, he has the Pistons with only an 11.7-percent chance of making the playoffs. The best, of the six teams mentioned, is the Indiana Pacers with a 60.9-percent chance. That is rather discouraging.

I do not have the resources that ESPN has available to do the calculations they do, but I like to use Excel and mess around with the numbers I do have. Having said that, I have to agree with ESPN that for the Pistons, the odds are not in their favor.


When the schedule came out, the Pistons won the "honor" of having the most back-to-back games in the league with 22. With 23 games left to go, seven of them will be on the second night of a back-to-back. That is tied for the most remaining back-to-backs of the six teams mentioned:

Team Remaining B2B
Detroit 7
Charlotte 7
Boston 6
Indiana 5
Brooklyn 5
Miami 3

Location, Location, Location

Here, the Pistons started the season even with every other team in the league. Every team has 41 home games on their schedule along with 41 road games. With 23 games remaining, the Pistons will play 14 of those in cities other than Detroit. Once again, that tops the list:

Team Remaining Road Games
Detroit 14
Charlotte 13
Boston 13
Indiana 10
Miami 10
Brooklyn 9

Taking out your opponent

One of the best ways in life to make sure you become successful take out the competition. You like a girl and so does another kid, you make up some lame rumor hoping that it puts you ahead of the game. You want to buy a business and there are other prospective buyers, you find a way to publicly make your competition look inadequate to your business. None of these things are moral, but thankfully in basketball, all you have to do is win games. This may be the only "advantage" the Pistons have, as they also have the most remaining games against the other five teams they are fighting with. However, it is not that much of an advantage.

Team Games Against Each Other
Detroit 8
Charlotte 8
Boston 8
Indiana 7
Miami 7
Brooklyn 6

Strength of Schedule

Now, obviously the teams' winning percentages will change as they continue to play their remaining games. However, as it stands right now, here are the winning percentages of the teams they remain to face. The first percentage is that of their opponents overall winning percentages. The second is that of their opponents winning percentages at home and on the road depending on where the game is played.

Team Overall WIN% Home/Road WIN%
Detroit 49.9% 51.9%
Charlotte 50.3% 49.9%
Miami 48.7% 49.2%
Boston 47.7% 48.8%
Indiana 48.3% 48.0%
Nets 48.3% 46.1%

So as you can see from the above table, the Pistons have a tougher strength of schedule due to where they are playing their opponents.

Tie Breakers

As it stands right now, the Pistons are 50/50 on tie breakers. The only two teams that they would currently lose a tie breaker to are Boston and Brooklyn. They hold an advantage over Indiana and Miami [UPDATE] and Charlotte., while they have not played a game yet against Charlotte. The Pistons have two more games against Boston, so they can turn that one around.


There are some things that cannot be weighed into any equation that can change the outcome. One such possibility is the return of Paul George. Nobody expects him to be 100-percent full throttle out of the gate, but even having him come off the bench to start would make the Pacers better. You would think Miami would be weaker since having lost Chris Bosh at the All-Star break, but they have gone 4-3 since then averaging nearly nine points more per game while their defense has remained the same. Therefore, they may be better than their record suggests.

Of the six teams, only Detroit and Charlotte have a winning percentage under 0.500 over the last 10 games. The Pistons are currently on a three game losing streak after having won the first two since trading for Reggie Jackson. However, the two days between games may have allowed him, and Tayshaun Prince, time to better get acquainted with the playbook and their teammate.

Pistons should still play to win

Having gone over all of that data, it shows that the Pistons have a very small chance of making it into the playoffs. Even still, I want to see them play to win. I know some people want to see the Pistons tank since their momentum has died down, but I think that would be the wrong thing to do for a couple of reasons.

  1. Future Playoffs - Van Gundy is a guy who, until this year, never missed the playoffs. I do not suspect he will miss them next year either. Therefore, I would want him to get the guys in the habit of consistent play through the end of March and April.
  2. Draft - While there is a better chance at grabbing a future star the closer you get to the top of the lottery, there are no guarantees the further you get from it. Also, should the standings stay in the same order, they're right around the positions they grabbed Greg Monroe, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond. I think those are fine specimens.
  3. Moose - Moose wants to win. Reports of Philadelphia wanting to throw a lot of money at him make me laugh as we know his desire is to win (and one day, they might). But the Pistons are only seven games away from the most games Monroe has won as a Piston. Any more to add onto that will show Moose the direction the Pistons are heading.
  4. Prospective Free Agents - Whether Monroe is re-signed (I hope) and/or Jackson is (meh), the Pistons will have some money to throw around at free agents. And while the draft does happen before free agency begins, I would not be surprised if free agents look more at the standings than they do where you picked in the draft (unless it is the top pick).

The fact that I can even write this article after that horrendous 5-23 start is amazing. It is unfortunate that both of Stan Van Gundy's winning and playoff streaks may come to an end, but there is still a chance at least one of them won't. You can thank that on the Pistons playing in the Eastern Conference.