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What to expect when you’re expecting the Pistons in the playoffs

If the Pistons can’t take advantage of a soft November, they’ll set themselves up for another disappointing season.

Milwaukee Bucks v Detroit Pistons - Game Three Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

When the new schedule gets released, we all do it. The back of the napkin W/Ls.

Two things were readily apparent when I got through with that napkin. Early season looks light. And the post-All Star break is going to suuuuuck.

I don’t like back of the napkin stuff. Looking at the schedule and saying that this is a game it feels like the Pistons have a shot to win or lose. I’m sure others have developed projections that have a proven track record, stuff like that. Messing around with some ideas, I put this together.

The idea is figuring out how likely the Pistons are to win a particular game. So going by over/under odds, they are expected to be around a .500 win team or a little lower. So assigning one win for teams way below that, .75 for teams a bit below, .50 wins for ones in between, .25 for teams a bit above, and no wins for teams way above - well, that seems an easy way to assign an objective measure for a mediocre team.

But going beyond that, the Pistons have been pretty solid at home but pretty lousy on the road. And over the past few years it’s been pretty consistent. So we can set the starting point for home games a bit higher, road games a bit lower.

You can click that link above for all of the details, but basically it’s this:

Sub-38 wins, 1 win: SAC, MIN, ATL, CHI, OKC, PHX, NY, WAS, MEM, CLE, CHA
37-41 wins, .75 win: ORL, DAL, NO, SAC
42-46 wins, .5 win: POR, TOR, SA, MIA, BRK
47-51 wins, .25 win: LAL, BOS, GS, IND
52+ wins, 0 win: MIL, PHI, LAC, UTAH, HOU, DEN

Sub-28, 1 win: NY, WAS, MEM, CLE, CHA
29-33, .75 win: ATL, CHI, OKC, PHX
34-38, .5 win: SAC, MIN
39-43, .25 win: MIA, BRK, ORL, DAL, NO

There’s quibbles to be made. I don’t think the Clippers or 76ers will sweep the Pistons. And I also think the Grizzlies or Hornets will win one. But overall, it seems pretty even to me. It puts the Pistons above their established over/under for the season, but reasonably so.

As a whole, I think the system makes some sense.

So what can we learn?

About what the back of the napkin says. The early part of the season is cake, it gets tough for a bit, eases up, then gets really freaking tough.

Here’s basically how the schedule progresses using this system.

Games 1-10: 4.5 wins
Games 11-20: 7.25 wins
Games 21-30: 4.75 wins
Games 31-40: 4 wins
Games 41-50: 6.5 wins
Games 51-60: 5 wins
Games 61-70: 4.5 wins
Games 71-82: 4.5 wins

December 3 is decision day

If the Pistons aren’t among the top of the Eastern Conference on December 3, there’s not really much of a point in keeping things going.

At first glance, the month doesn’t look that bad. But it’s where the back of the napkin fails.

From December 4 to January 5, the Pistons play 16 games. On the system (if you want to actually call it that) above, 9 of those games fall in the 0 range.

And they even lose the benefit of their home court advantage against the Mavericks, with their December 12 game taking place in Mexico City - which also has the added challenge of being sneaky high, its 7,382 foot elevation is actually considerably higher than Denver’s 5,280 feet. Believe me, adding another 2,000 feet to highly demanding competition is no small thing.

Even if everything goes right with the soft November, the Pistons will need a cushion in place if they’re going to survive this stretch. Without the cushion? It’ll be another year of Blake destroying himself to sneak into the 8 seed.

The Pistons are going with the strategy of trying to compete. Ok cool. The good news is that we’ll find out early if that might work. Through the first 21 games, the number of wins to look for is 13. If they bank more than that, they’ll head into the following rough stretch with enough momentum to emerge with a record that isn’t too gross.

Fewer than that though? Pull the plug on the season. Trade Andre Drummond while you can. Dump Reggie Jackson. Start looking for suitors for Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris for when they’re eligible to be traded on December 14. Decide if Blake Griffin is part of the team’s future. 30 or fewer wins should become the new goal.

And it’s quite a do-able goal. From here on, the Pistons track as a sub-.500 team.

Don’t make a trade deadline mistake

Good vibes will come back in mid-January. Coming out of a brutal West coast trip, they enter a soft 20 game stretch where they could be looking at 14-5. Which could subsequently trick them into thinking that the Pistons should be buyers.

The “system” has them at 29-25 heading into the trade deadline. That’s a pretty decent looking record. So why not?

Well. They’d quickly find themselves with buyer’s remorse. Caveat emptor.

Over the final 25 games, the Pistons stand to win just eight of them. And that’s counting on a strong performance in their closing games, which includes six of their final eight coming on the road. Even if they’re trying to win against bad teams, that’s a tough closing stretch. Plus they only face one tanking team, the Knicks.

If the Pistons are just hanging on at .500 or a few wins above at the deadline, it’s not the time to push the chips to the middle of the table. Even if they’re toward the top of the Eastern Conference, a big move isn’t going to push them over the top - it’d only serve to help them potentially keep their head above water.

But a drive toward a legitimately interesting team? Nah.

Isn’t all of this familiar?

Yes. Almost down to the day.

The Pistons stuck a December 1 win over the Warriors last year, so their skid did start on December 3. They followed the same pattern of unsuccessfully trying to bank enough wins to trudge through a rough winter, then got their heads back above water for a little bit before limping to the finish line. As was 2016-17. And the post-Josh Smith 2014-15 team.

Well. Groundhog Day is a great movie.