As revken recently pointed out, the Pistons begin a nine-game stretch that includes some of the NBA's best teams. On Tuesday, they begin that stretch at home against the San Antonio Spurs.
Every win - regardless of opponent - remains critical to the Pistons' playoff chances. The top teams in the East - Cleveland, Toronto, Chicago, and Atlanta - seem to be separating from the pack of late, but the bottom half of the East remains a logjam. At 21-16, the Pistons are currently in sixth place in the East, but they are only a half game back of Miami and the 5th seed, and only three games up in New York and 10th place in the East.
The bottom half of the East is better than the bottom half of the West? And the Pistons look like a Playoff team? Yep. It sounds crazy, but it is, oh, so gloriously true.
Know what else is crazy, though? The San Antonio Spurs.
Largely overshadowed by the Golden State Warriors' pursuit of history, the Spurs have quietly put together a season that is nearly as impressive. At 33-6, the Spurs aren't chasing 72 wins like the Warriors, but a case can be made that they are every bit as good as the defending champs.
Take efficiency differential (offensive efficiency-defensive efficiency), which is widely considered to be a solid indicator of team quality. On average, the Golden State Warriors are 13.9 points better than their opponents over one hundred possessions (per NBA.com). That is crazy, stupid good.
But get this - the Spurs are actually better using this criterion. The Spurs are 15 points better over one hundred possessions, which is itself a historic number. For some context, remember those 72-win Bulls? Their efficiency differential was 13.8.
Very quietly, the San Antonio Spurs are having a historically dominant season.
Kawhi Leonard has emerged as a legitimate star, LaMarcus Aldridge is filling the role that Tim Duncan has filled for seemingly forever, and Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are all playing remarkably efficient basketball. And, oh yeah, they can go 11 deep in their rotation; only Kawhi Leonard is playing more than 30 minutes per game.
Love 'em or hate 'em, you have to respect 'em. To commemorate the Spurs' long-standing dominance as the NBA's elder statesmen, we're going with an old-school preview.
Keys to the Game
Win the War on the Glass: The Pistons are 19-7 when they out-rebound their opponents. Enough said.
Force the Spurs into Mid-Range: Easier said than done, admittedly, but the Spurs (still) thrive when they get dribble penetration or good post position, causing the defense to rotate, and then swinging the ball around the perimeter and/or moving without the ball. Let's face it, pretty much everyone else in the NBA, including the Pistons, is emulating this system, but knowing how to stop it and actually doing so are different things.
Run in Transition: Sure, the Spurs can go 11 deep ... but they are old. Remarkably, the Spurs are somehow 6-0 on zero days of rest, but someone should be able to exploit the Spurs in this situation, and it might as well be the Pistons. Get stops, secure the rebound (see above), and run.
At the time of writing, Marcus Morris is questionable. He'd be a good weapon to have against Kawhi Leonard.
Do you love 'em? Or hate 'em? Or maybe somewhere in between?