Alright, let's reiterate the question:
What do the Detroit Pistons have to do to make the 2016 NBA playoffs?
The Pistons are currently 32-31. The rest of their season should look something like this:
|Detroit Pistons 2016 Schedule||Date||Opponent and Location||Projected Result||Lazarus Jackson Projected Record (LJPR)|
|March 9||@ Dallas||Win||33-31|
|March 11||@ Charlotte||Loss||33-32|
|March 12 (Back-to-Back)||@ Philadelphia||Win||34-32|
|March 14||@ Washington||Loss||34-33|
|March 19 (Back-to-Back)||Brooklyn||Win||37-33|
|March 26 (Back-to-Back)||Atlanta||Loss||39-35|
|March 29||Oklahoma City||Loss||39-36|
|April 2 (Back-to-Back)||@ Chicago||Win||40-37|
|April 5||@ Miami||Loss||40-38|
|April 6 (Back-to-Back)||@ Orlando||Loss||40-39|
|April 13 (Back-to-Back)||Cleveland||Win||43-39|
(Feel free to enter your own "LJPR" in the comments.)
With those rational projections in mind, what stands out?
Detroit controls its own destiny:
With two games left against Charlotte, two games left against Miami, a game left against Chicago, two games left against Atlanta, and the reasonable expectation that Cleveland punts the last game of the season, the Pistons definitely have a path to the playoffs. Winning games against teams above them in the standings essentially counts for double, and the opportunity to pick up full games on multiple teams above them in the standings offers a little room for error. There's no more big Western road swing, we never have to see Golden State or the Spurs again. The Pistons don't even travel west of the Mississppi after the Dallas game. That matters; just ask the Celtics, who still have to play the Grizzlies, the Rockets, the Thunder, the Clippers, the Trail Blazers, the Pelicans, AND the Warriors.
They can manufacture their own luck:
The Pistons currently lead the Chicago Bulls 2-1 in the season series. They have the opportunity to gain the season series tiebreaker over the Charlotte Hornets (currently 0-1). They have the opportunity to pick up the season series tiebreaker against the Atlanta Hawks (currently 1-1). They have the opportunity to keep the season series tiebreaker over the Miami Heat (currently 2-0; little things like Chris Bosh being TOO wide open for a game-winner suddenly matter in March).
Unfortunately, the Pistons are also 0-2 against the Washington Wizards and 1-3 against the Indiana Pacers. These tiebreakers matter for making the playoffs at all (in the case of Chicago and staying ahead of Washington) and, if they make the playoffs, jockeying for non-Cleveland non-Toronto position. This ties in a little to the above point of controlling their own destiny, but warrants a separate mention.
A 7-2 March homestand is possible:
All season long, we've stared at that homestand as a possible make-or-break for the Pistons' playoff chances. "If they can just hang around until that stretch, they'll have a shot," we said to ourselves through gritted teeth after both Memphis games, the Indiana home losses, and the stumble heading into the All-Star break. Well, now they can get rewarded.
In the interest of not being a homer, I have the Pistons going 5-4 on that homestand. But if you squint, and -hang on-
*Grabs flagon of HypnoWheel Kool-Aid*
*Wipes lips, belches*
*Smiles softly to self*
The only game the Pistons absolutely SHOULD lose in that stretch is against Oklahoma City. Figure they lose another game to attrition. That leaves SEVEN winnable games. The Pistons are already much better at home (19-11) than on the road (13-20). If they get the Sacramento-Brooklyn-Milwaukee-Orlando win snowball going, who's to say they won't keep rolling the rest of the season?
Detroit has been playing better since addition of Tobias Harris:
Our own XxTREMExX XxSANITYxX (sorry Jason) had a great piece about how the offense was functioning better with Tobias Harris on the court. I expect that to be the new normal. Admittedly, it looks as if sometimes Reggie doesn't know he's ALLOWED to pass in crunch-time (The loss in Denver, 3-17 in NYC, the loss to Chicago, etc) but Tobias gives the Pistons another crunch-time offensive option to fall back on, enables them to switch two-through-four on the perimeter, and can drag the likes of, oh, say, David Lee out to the arc to open up the floor for the rest of the team.
The bench is progressing and healing at exactly the right time:
The bench is playing well despite missing three key components (Stanley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver, and Jodie Meeks). Honestly, a lot of that is due to the surprising play of Reggie Bullock.
Now, I am firmly in the "Reggie Bullock is going to regress" camp. But even if he regresses, he offers complimentary scoring and solid defense. Additionally, when Stanley comes back (get well soon, kid,) Bullock offers "not-being-a-rookie-ness" that Darrun Hilliard can't at this stage of his career. Anthony Tolliver is also "close" to returning, which also should lighten the minutes load on Marcus Morris and Tobias.
Everyone knows the bench has been an issue all season for the Pistons. But they picked one hell of a time to go from a C-minus group to a B. All the bench has to do is not lose games outright (as they did earlier in the year) and the Pistons can succeed.
Alright, it's been 750 words. Hypnowheel's Kool-Aid is beginning to wear off a little. There are also legitimate reasons to be concerned about the Pistons making the playoffs at all.
Let me remind you of some inconvenient facts:
The Pistons can't get the tiebreaker against Indiana:
Currently a game and a half back of the Pacers, the Pistons would have to beat them outright to make it into the playoffs. I thought the Pacers would start sliding after this tweet from CBS' Matt Moore:
OH, NO , PACERS. pic.twitter.com/4zSlSrxARh— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 7, 2016
Then the Pacers signed Ty Lawson, beat San Antonio at home, and have a schedule full of home games (where they are, coincidentally, also 19-11 this year) to close the season. Yikes.
Charlotte is in the eye of a perfect storm:
Charlotte, a team I thought Detroit would easily best in the playoff race after Michael Kidd-Gilchrest's SECOND season-ending shoulder injury (get well MKG), has put its head down, added Courtney Lee, and gone a staggering 15-5 since January 22.
They are already 2-0 on their current seven-game homestand, have a bunch of winnable games left (a back-to-back home-and-home with Philadelphia - which is basically manna from heaven this late in the season - two games against Brooklyn, two games against Orlando, and games against Milwaukee and the Knicks), and play Cleveland and Toronto during a time period where those teams might not have much to play for. Charlotte is the No. 6 seed now; they could climb as high as the No. 4 seed. Oh, and the Pistons play them twice.
Needless to say, I do not think the Pistons will catch Charlotte.
Jimmy Butler's absence correlated strongly with the Bulls' slide. Now that he returned for a game (after which swelling returned to his knee), the Pistons will have to fight a better Bulls team than the NBA has seen for the past three to four weeks. If healthy, Butler is a top-tier player in the NBA and a definite factor in the playoff race.
Again, the Pistons have a 2-1 season series tiebreaker against the Bulls, but I would circle April 2 in big red marker on my calendar.
The No. 6 seed is probably out of reach:
The above three points lead me to believe the Pistons will be scrapping with the Pacers, the Bulls, the Wizards, and the Hawks for the No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
Reminder: Making the playoffs is not guaranteed and would be a welcome stepping-stone for the Pistons this season.
That said, both making the playoffs AND dodging Toronto or Cleveland in the first round looks highly unlikely. And, despite the Pistons playing the Cavaliers relatively well this season and beating (Kyle Lowry-less) Toronto a couple weeks ago, those series portend poorly for the Pistons' chances for advancement. I've seen a lot of talk on DBB about how the Pistons have a shot at a nice 3-6 matchup with Miami or Boston in the playoffs; that dream should've died six paragraphs ago.
That was the long answer. To answer our simple question with a simple answer: The Pistons have an excellent chance of making the playoffs - provided they win between three and five more games than they lose from now to April.
Seems simple enough.