My playoffs begin today.
Not to make this article all about its author, but as I long ago made plans to travel to France during the second half of April (without even thinking about the NBA playoffs!), it's likely going to be difficult for me to catch a game while traveling with family... especially when most games will be starting around 2:00am over there.
So it's time for one last big gulp of Kool-Aid before things really heat up.
These may be the last ten games I get to see (live), but I doubt that will be case for you the reader.
I have to confess, I'm not entirely optimistic about the next ten games. While the Pistons will play six of ten at The Palace, most of those games will be against playoff teams or contenders, and a few of those will be against teams that have given our boys fits all year long.
It's not going to be easy.
For the first time all season, I think the happy ending we've all been hoping for is going to rely on the Pistons doing something they haven't done in the past.
But that's the good news.
Hear me out.
Prior to the start of the season, my optimism was actually based on evidence gleaned from last year's team. I thought it was a certainty they'd win at least 42 games and possible they'd win as many as 50. I didn't, however, think it'd take 43-44 wins to sneak into the playoffs.
I was wrong about Toronto. I was wrong about Charlotte. I was wrong about Boston. I was wrong about Indiana. They've all been better than I expected, and since the Pistons have struggled with injuries that have really hurt their depth, they're playing for the eighth seed instead of home court.
The Pacers have an absolute cakewalk the rest of the year. Only four of their remaining 11 games are against teams currently .500 or better, and since their only losses of late have come against playoff teams (they haven't lost to a sub .500 team since Jan 23rd at Sacramento), a collapse is less likely than the real-life Hoosiers winning the state title by running the picket fence.
The Pistons actually have a better (albeit tiny) chance of passing Charlotte. The Hornets have only three remaining home games and eight on the road, including three road back-to-backs. Their recent surge, while perfectly legitimate, did take place during a stretch when they played a 7-game home stand, and 10 of 12 overall in Charlotte.
If the Hornets don't keep up the excellent play on the road (and that's a big "if"), it's possible they could stumble to the finish line. But even if Charlotte lost six or seven of their remaining games, the Pistons would have to basically win out to pass them in the standings.
[I know... 82-0, right? Right?!?]
But honestly, if the Pistons make the playoffs, it's very likely going to be in that eigth and final slot.
While they've already outperformed the projections of most in the professional media (*cough* ESPN Summer Forecast! *cough*), they're still a bit short of my early optimistic projections.
For them to meet my expectations, they're going to have to pull off something unprecedented (at least for this year's Pistons) to finish the season - i.e. put together a real winning streak against strong competition.
Reggie Jackson will have to be more consistent. And play better defense.
Andre Drummond will have to show up every damn night. Not just sometimes.
Marcus Morris will have to continue to shoot well (70%?!?) from downtown.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will have to not shoot 2-11 from downtown.
Tobias Harris will have to keep doing Tobias-y things consistently.
And the Detroit Pistons will have to play better defense than they have the last four games.
I wouldn't bet on this happening. Not like I bet (and won!) on the over/under for season wins (last mention... promise!). But it can be done. And if they do go on a serious run to end the year, it's going to be beautiful.
(You see... I have this little hobby. I like to make videos. Copyright laws be damned. And let's just pretend I've been working on this little project since the start of the season, that I have a ton of amazing footage to use, and that all I'm missing is a dramatic and uplifting climax. And that if they flame out, all of that will go to waste. But it won't, because they won't.)
This is where it gets fun. And nerve-wracking. And nail-biting. And more fun.
Here they sit at 38-34, having just completed a 4-game winning streak, at home, all against sub-par teams with no hope of making the playoffs.
Here they sit, with four more in a row at The Palace, but now it's for keeps. No more chumps.
Tonight they face a Charlotte team that thoroughly whooped them a couple weeks ago. Then they face a
Hacks Hawks team that absolutely LOVES to play Hack-a-Dre... and does so with great success. Then they face Durant & Westbrook. Then Dirk & Friends.
When I think of the last four games, I have zero confidence the Pistons will continue their winning streak through next week.
But when I remember this is a team that's gone 11-5 with Tobias Harris in the starting lineup, a team that's beaten Cleveland (on the road), Toronto, Portland and Dallas (on the road) during that stretch, a team whose only losses at home since the All-Star break have come against the Hacking Hawks and THE UNSTOPPABLE VIDEO GAME VERSION OF ANTHONY DAVIS... well, I think anything is possible.
There are no unwinnable games on the Pistons' remaining schedule. None I'd be quick to call a loss.
Don't get me wrong. There's no amount of Kool-Aid that will make me forget those losses to the Knicks and Wizards. I'm well aware that the Mr. Hyde version of this team can show up at any time, and I'd be surprised if it didn't show up and blow a game or two down the stretch.
But anything is possible. They can beat anyone. They could even run the table.
And while I wouldn't bet on that outcome, it'd be a hell of a good time.
My more modest prediction for these final ten games is that the Pistons go 6-4 to finish a very respectable 44-38.
Since the Bulls currently sit at 36-35, they'd have to go 8-3 to match that record. Their schedule includes seven road games and only four at home, while featuring seven teams currently fighting for playoff position. And they just lost two in a row to the Knicks. The Bulls are aging, injury-plagued and running out of gas. They probably don't even want to face off against the Cavs in the first round and get embarrassed on TNT. What a degrading exit from contention that would be for the Bulls.
So call it Kool-Aid if you must... but I'm calling a playoff berth for the Pistons. I think they get in by a game or two over the Bulls or Wizards (if they keep fighting).
And then I get on a plane for France. Where I'll have a wonderful time. And will hopefully figure out how to watch the Pistons beat the crap out of The LeBrons on my iPad. At 2:00am. Under a blanket.
Buckle up, DBB. This is where the fun begins.