If the Pistons are still in contention for a postseason berth when March draws to a close, it will only be because they emerged triumphant from another tough stretch of their schedule. They will face only three teams with a worse record than their own 23-39 in their next 10 games, and the average winning percentage of these opponents is .503. If there is any reason to hope, it’s because Detroit won three of its previous 10 against an even more formidable slate, with just one team sporting a worse record than their own. They lost to that team (the Knicks), however, so anything is possible. The fact that the last 10 began with a stirring 106-78 conquest of Charlotte, and concluded with a stinging 108-101 defeat to those Hornets, does not inspire confidence.
Take a look ahead
The Pistons embark on this West Coast swing having lost their last six contests – a streak only exceeded this season by the 13-game slide that preceded Jodie Meeks’ return from injury. While there are some weaker foes ahead that could help break the fall, we could also be looking at a complete collapse if Detroit does not find its way again soon. All five of the weaker teams they will face (Celtics, Jazz, Lakers, Magic, 76ers) have already beaten the Pistons at least once, and they will all enjoy home court advantage this time around. And the three teams Stan Van Gundy’s charges will host in Motown are Chicago, Memphis and Toronto.
So let’s look more closely at the teams that stand in the way as Detroit seeks to jump start its expiring playoff aspirations.
Game 63 (Tues., Mar. 10): Pistons at Lakers
This Los Angeles team, now 16-46, may not recognize the visitors from Detroit when they step onto the floor. The only two starters remaining in the line-up are Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and there are also some new faces on the bench. The Lakers won the last match in Michigan in early December, 106-96. Jordan Hill dominated the middle with 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant recorded a triple-double (12 points, 13 assists, 10 turnovers). Josh Smith led the way for the Pistons with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Bryant has not played since January due to a torn rotator cuff, and L.A. has one of the worst defenses in the league. This is a game Detroit desperately needs to win.
Game 64 (Wed., Mar. 11): Pistons at Warriors
Here comes another back-to-back, and who better to face off against than run-and-gun Golden State, currently 49-12. They are first in pace, points, defensive rating, and three-point shooting. (Think Van Gundy will wish he was coaching that elite bunch?) Detroit lost 104-93 in late November at The Palace, and a win this night would rival those amazing victories over the Spurs and Mavericks in the opening days of the Anthony Tolliver Era. Don’t bet your lunch money on that outcome.
Game 65 (Fri., Mar. 13): Pistons at Trail Blazers
Portland (41-20) has also suffered the loss of a key starter to an Achilles tendon tear – Wes Matthews. But they fortuitously brought in Aaron Afflalo in February to bolster their playoff run, so they have an adequate replacement. The Blazers dropped Detroit 98-86 back in December for that 13th straight loss, and should be able to outgun them once again.
Advantage: Trail Blazers
Game 66 (Sat., Mar. 14): Pistons at Jazz
Utah came to town way back in November and escaped with a 97-96 victory. While they sport a 26-36 record, they are 7-2 since the All-Star break, having tacked on defeats of Memphis, Portland and San Antonio to their resume. Apparently Enes Kanter was all that was holding them back. (So trade the Enes Kanter in your life!) Rudy Gobert has anchored a defense that has given up 100 points only once during that span, and he’s averaged over 13 boards and nearly three blocks per game.
Game 67 (Tues., Mar. 17): Grizzlies at Pistons
Tayshaun Prince gets to welcome his erstwhile teammates to town, and wonder why they could not hold on to him so he could enjoy one more playoff run. While his replacement, Jeff Green, has not stood out (12.2 ppg, .496 TS%), Memphis has the West’s second best record at 44-18. It’s been over five years since the Pistons last beat the Grizzlies, so even Prince may not recall that happy ending. We probably should not expect him to relive that moment on this evening.
Game 68 (Wed., Mar. 18): Pistons at 76ers
After facing one of the league’s best squads at home, Detroit travels to the City of Brotherly Love looking for a respite. Unfortunately, the 14-49 76ers have already beaten the Pistons twice this season, with the last occasion a humiliating 89-69 drubbing in late January. Since then Philadelphia has traded away its starting point guard in yet another effort to reap rewards from the NBA Draft. Even so, they recently beat the league-leading Atlanta Hawks, which is something the Pistons have yet to do.
Game 69 (Sat., Mar. 21): Bulls at Pistons
Chicago is 3-4 since losing Derrick Rose to injury yet again, so they are not invulnerable. These teams have split their previous two matches, with Spencer Dinwiddie steering Detroit to a 100-91 victory after the All-Star break. Drummond grabbed 20 boards, and Greg Monroe and Caron Butler each scored 20 points to withstand a 30-point night from Jimmy Butler. While it would seem unlikely that the 39-25 Bulls could fall to the Pistons, perhaps the match-ups favor the home team.
Game 70 (Sun., Mar. 22): Pistons at Celtics
Detroit heads east for a reunion with Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome to battle a 25-36 Boston team that is still in the playoff race. Way back in early December the Pistons lost at the Garden 109-102 in overtime. Perhaps Prince will have a flashback night to express his displeasure at Danny Ainge for not giving him the buy-out he anticipated.
Game 71 (Tues., Mar. 24): Raptors at Pistons
Toronto (38-25) has stumbled to a 2-8 record since the All-Star Break, though a tough schedule and an injury to Kyle Lowry have contributed to that slide. The Raptors hold a 2-1 series edge this season, and probably have too much offensive fire power for the Pistons to withstand.
Game 72 (Fri., Mar. 27: Pistons at Magic
Orlando has gone 6-6 to improve to 21-43 under new Head Coach James Borrego, so maybe Van Gundy spoke too soon when he criticized the firing of Jacque Vaughn. The schedule has helped, too, for there has been only one victory over a team with a winning record. Still, being able to down inferior opponents is a sign of progress for the Magic that Detroit has not yet mastered.
What can we expect?
If the Pistons manage to post a 4-6 record, that will bring them to 27-45 with only 10 games left in their season. While this might not mathematically eliminate them from the postseason, the odds of making it would remain slim indeed. Their closing schedule will be somewhat more favorable, however, so a late dash for the finish line cannot be ruled out yet. Of course, if Detroit only manages one or two wins the rest of this month, fans might better occupy their time perusing the latest mock drafts.
What are your projections for the Pistons next 10 games? Vote in the attached poll and then share your thoughts.