So I'm staring at the Pistons schedule, and it looks like they're going to be six games under .500, also known as “Orlando Magic territory,” in a few short days. A Golden State-Utah back-to-back is a killer for any NBA team, much less any Eastern Conference team playing without a starter during a five-game road trip.
The schedule isn’t of much help to the Pistons late in the year; there’s no seven-game homestand in March to springboard off of, like last year. However, there is a make-or-break stretch coming up.
Ten games between the end of January and the middle of February will decide the Pistons’ playoff fate:
The Pistons have to win eight of those games to stay in the playoff hunt and oh my god I can barely type that sentence without pushing away from my keyboard and shaking my head angrily because of the inconceivability of it all.
* retrieves bottle labeled “Sean’s secret stuff” *
* takes cap off *
* returns to keyboard *
* Channels the still-vibrant spirit of Hubie Brown for assistance using the second person *
Lose to Golden State and Utah - a completely rational assumption - and you’re six games under .500 (18-24). Split the Lakers game (final game of the road trip) and the Hawks game - again, perfectly rational - and you’re still six games under .500 (19-25).
Go 8-2 during the next stretch of games, and you MERELY GET BACK TO .500 (27-27). From there, you can try to maintain momentum during the All-Star Break, because it’s not like any of the Pistons need to be in New Orleans during the break.
Go, say, 4-6 during that stretch, and not only do you fall further under .500, you squander valuable home games against teams ahead of you in the conference (Indiana, Washington, Boston).
Not all of those games are quote-unquote “winnable,” but it doesn’t matter. There’s only one back-to-back in that stretch, and a lot of rest at the start. Jon Leuer might not be back until the home game against Sacramento, but it doesn’t matter. If you want to be a playoff team, you can lose the Boston game and the San Antonio game. That’s it.
You can’t have the annual “Oops, we lost to Philadelphia at home” game. You can’t let Anthony Davis see you driven before him to the tune of your women’s lamentation. You can’t let whether or not the Heat decide to field a competitive NBA roster affect the effort level you come out with. You can’t let the Minnesota-Indiana back-to-back fatigue you.
You have to seize those seven home games like they’re the only thing that matters because they’re the only thing that matters. You have to play both ends of the court for a full 48 minutes. Any you REALLY have to beat those Eastern Conference teams ahead of you to gain full games on them in the standings.
The season isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination. The Pistons hit the midpoint of the season Thursday against Golden State. They’ve looked better in their last six games. The middle of the Eastern conference is still a morass of mediocrity.
I firmly believe this is a playoff team, but you cannot be reliant on the mediocrity of others to get you where you want to be. To get back in the playoff hunt, you have to display some level of exceptional play. You have to be the team you were expected to be at the beginning of the season. You have to be the team you were after the Tobias Harris trade last season. Tell ‘em, Mufasa:
Just... try not to get embarrassed in front of God and Charles Barkley on Thursday and in front of God and Chauncey Billups on Friday. That’s as good a place to start as any.