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NBA Eastern Conference playoff race: finish above .500, make the playoffs

It’s just about that simple.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I hope you didn’t set that paper bag down too far away. Or that bottle of booze. This team certainly knows how to get their fans’ heart rate up.

After a pair of losses to the Indiana Pacers, the Pistons are in the sprint for the playoff race. They sit at 39 wins, the same mark as the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, and just one win more than the Miami Heat.

Those four teams are all chasing after the bottom three playoff spots in the East. With four games remaining, the Pistons at least have a slim lead on the competition. And there are still a few factors playing to their advantage.

The Nets have been tough all season, but have suffered losses in four of their past five games as their schedule has closed on a brutal note. They closed off a tough seven game road trip with losses to the Blazers and 76ers, then came home to play three of the top teams in the East, the Celtics, Bucks, and Raptors. With just one win in their past five games, they close out at the Bucks and Pacers before hosting the Heat in what could be a very interesting final game of the season.

The Heat are a win down from the rest of the pack, but at least have a fourth game to surge ahead. But they also have a rough road to get there with three of their four remaining games coming on the road and against tough teams - the Timberwolves, Raptors, 76ers, and Nets.

The Magic have played the spoiler in the East, winning eight of their past ten games. And don’t expect them to let up. Two of their three remaining games are against non-playoff teams in the Hawks and Hornets (yeah, I know the Hornets aren’t mathematically eliminated, but they’re not making it).

Which brings us to our Pistons. Compared to the rest of the field, they’re in the best spot. Four games remaining, three of those against non-playoff teams, evenly split between home and away. But still. If you’re starting to get nervous, it’s hard to blame you.

After all, they’ve won just two of their past seven games and that red-hot shooting that was the key to their 13-3 stretch has been absent. They were over 40 percent from three with a 59 percent true shooting percentage during their streak, but have been down to 35 percent from three and 52 percent TS since March 11.

Plus they’ve been without Blake Griffin for the past three games as he’s nursed a sore knee (which makes any April Fools Day stories about Blake missing the rest of the season with a knee injury just look...hilarious. Yes. So funny. Great job, anyone who may have done that.).

They at least close the season against the Grizzlies and Knicks, two games that should be wins. But the Pistons can control their own fate by winning at least 42 games and finishing above .500. That would force the Nets and Magic to each of their remaining games and for the Heat to win three of their final four to match Detroit - and remember, one of those final games comes between the Nets and Heat.

Scoreboard watching season will hit full pitch this weekend, with each of the four teams playing two games between Friday and Sunday. We’ll see how it all plays out.