You’ve heard it before and you may hear it again, but no doubt about it, tonight’s game against the Charlotte Hornets is the biggest game of the season. Thanks to the Jeremy Lamb’s personal vindicta against the Toronto Raptors, and Detroit’s inability to steal a game in their last three contests, the Hornets are now just two games behind Pistons for the 8th seed, with three games to go. At the time this article is being written, Detroit holds a one game lead over the Heat, and are a half game back of the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets - Pistons own the head to head over the Magic, Nets have it over the Pistons.
The good news for the Pistons, they’ll be back in Detroit, where they’ve won eleven of their last twelve games. They’ll also be playing in front of a should be raucous crowd, as the Goin’ to Work team will be in town to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of the 2003-04 Championship (filed to the could mean something, could mean nothing folder). And Blake Griffin is back in the starting line-up, after he missed three games earlier this week with soreness in his left knee.
Things were simpler back in the mid-2000s, a time when Detroit would already be sitting at 50+ wins with a few games to go in the regular season. They might have been jockeying for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they certainly weren’t screen-watching other teams, and busting their calculators out to find a route to the 6th, 7th or 8th seed. Times have changed, but Detroit remains in control of their own destiny - win your last three games, go the playoffs, it’s that simple.
When: Sunday, April 7th, 4:00 p.m. EST
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
We’re at the point in the season where you don’t necessarily throw out the playbook, but you know your identity, and what you have to do to win a game of this magnitude. You also know what your opponent does well, and what types of looks they’ll try to create to keep their season alive, especially since Charlotte has already beaten Detroit three times this season.
For Detroit, that means they’ll need someone other than Blake Griffin to have a solid game on the offensive side of the floor. Griffin put up a monster 45 point performance against the Thunder on Friday night, hitting nine threes in the process, but his running mates in the starting line-up only managed to chip in an additional 27 points. Most notably, Andre Drummond had possibly his worst game of the season, scoring just four points and grabbing nine rebounds in twenty seven minutes of action.
If you’re starting line-up, sans Griffin, is ineffective yet again - they’ll need the bench to produce better than they have as of late. Luke Kennard has averaged just 4.8 points per game in his last five. Langston Galloway has averaged 10 points per game during that same span, but has only hit 33% of his shots from field, and 29% from deep. Same can be said for Ish Smith, who’s averaging 7.6 points, while shooting 38% from the floor and 13% from three in his last five appearances. This level of production won’t get the job done if the Pistons want to party with one of the premier teams in the East next week.
In case you haven’t noticed by now, Charlotte is the Kemba Walker show, with some Jeremy Lamb game winners sprinkled in the mix. Bruce Brown will try to shadow Walker as much as possible, but Walker is one of the few players in the league that can single-handedly will his team to a victory on any given night. Stop Walker (errr slow down Walker), and you should be able take home a much needed W.
If the Pistons find a way to win, they’ll have officially eliminated the Hornets from the playoffs. Brooklyn, Orlando and Detroit could not finish worse than 40-42, and the Pistons would be handing the Hornets their 43rd loss of the season.
Three games left, two at home, with the season finale against the NBA’s worst team in the New York Knicks. As long as Detroit doesn’t collapse, they’ll find a way into the post-season for just the second time in the last 10 years.
Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Wayne Ellington, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond
Kemba Walker, Dwayne Bacon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo
Detroit - 108, Charlotte - 100