We’ve officially reached the final stretch.
The NBA’s regular season ends April 10. Between now and then, we’ll finally know who rose up to grab the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Your Detroit Pistons (38-37) currently sit as the No. 6 seed, followed by the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets (38-38), eighth-seeded Miami Heat (37-38), ninth-seeded Orlando Magic (37-39) and 10th-seeded Charlotte Hornets (35-40).
Five teams for three spots — yeah, this is going down to the wire.
The Pistons own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Magic after winning three out of four meetings this season, including Thursday’s blowout win. They split four games with the Heat this season, but if Miami wins the dreadful Southeast Division, they would have the tiebreaker in a scenario where both finish the season tied.
For this reason, you want Orlando to finish ahead of Miami. Sorry, D-Wade.
Detroit beat Brooklyn to open the season, but lost their next two matchups in uniquely embarrassing style. As a result, the Nets own that tiebreaker, which could be significant with both teams jockeying for the No. 6 seed. Charlotte has dominated the Pistons this season, winning all three matchups with one to go later this season.
What do the Pistons need to do to assure that they aren’t playing do-or-die, must-win games in the final week of the season? Take care of business before then.
Here’s their remaining schedule:
- Tonight vs. Portland Trailblazers
- Monday at Indiana Pacers
- Wednesday vs. Indiana Pacers
- April 5 at Oklahoma City Thunder
- April 7 vs. Charlotte Hornets
- April 9 vs. Memphis Grizzlies
- April 10 at New York Knicks
That’s not an impossible slate, but it certainly presents some hurdles. Tonight against the Blazers will be interesting. The Pistons let a win slip away last week in Portland, and now gets another chance against Damian Lillard and Co. at home, where the Pistons thrive.
Portland is not a good road team, so let’s call it a win: 39-37.
The home-and-home series against Indiana is odd to see this late in the year, but the Pistons match up well. After being demolished on the road early this season, Detroit handily beat the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers last month. Indiana is only 5-10 since that game. The Pistons could sweep this —and that would be HUGE — but let’s be cautious and say they split and each team wins at home.
That pushes the Pistons’ record to 40-38.
Oklahoma City, like Indiana, is scuffling. The Thunder completely shut down the Pistons in a 27-point win back in December, but that was a loooooong time ago. They still have Paul George, the forgotten MVP candidate, and Russell Westbrook… but they’re 6-12 since Feb. 22 with losses to Miami, Memphis, Sacramento and Minnesota.
I don’t think the Pistons win this one, though. So, let’s put them at 40-39.
This brings us to the Hornets. Charlotte has been a bad matchup for the Pistons in recent years and, outside of Kemba Walker and, to a much lesser extent, Marvin Williams, I don’t know why. It’s just not good and, odds are, they’ll nip them again here.
But Charlotte has an uphill climb. The Hornets lost on Friday and need to win at least six of their final seven games to put the Pistons in realistic danger. Let’s say this team finally has its junk together against a depleted and mentally beaten Hornets team.
That pushes them to 41-39 with two games to go.
It appears 42 wins is the magic number - if the Pistons get to 42 wins, it would take Orlando going 5-1, Miami 6-1 and Charlotte 7-0 to pass them. If Charlotte goes on a losing streak at any point over the next week, their goose is cooked.
Barring a complete and total collapse, the only way the Pistons can blow this is by finishing behind Brooklyn and Miami, while being tied with Charlotte. That would push Detroit to No. 9. And that seems unlikely considering the Hornets’ current situation.
The Pistons could lose to Memphis, a team that is 7-7 in its last 14. They could lose at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks on the final night of the season, too. But New York has no interest in that game, and the Pistons aren’t THAT infuriating.
If they get to that 42-43 win mark, they’re making it.
The sooner that happens, the sooner you can think about playing for a playoff seed, which could be as easy as giving Blake Griffin a night off and dropping a game behind Brooklyn to go from a terrible matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers to a better one with the Toronto Raptors.
We’ll cross that bridge (or tunnel) when we get there. For now, just win.