Auburn Hills — The Pistons sense a bit of a turnaround as they battle for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, but no one wants to say it because they’ve seen prosperity turn into despair before.
The Pistons have won four straight home games, and this weekend pushed to within a half-game of the final playoff spot held by the Charlotte Bobcats. They are 2˝ games behind Brooklyn for the seventh spot and just 4˝ games behind Atlanta for the No. 4 spot and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Still, that was not good enough for owner Tom Gores, who on Sunday fired head coach Maurice Cheeks (21-29) after 50 games.
Those are huge goals that are within reach, but guard Rodney Stuckey threw up a minor caution flag.
“It is just two games,” he said. “We’ve got to take it one game at a time. We have a game on Monday and we got to come out with the same intensity, like we have been the last two games.”
Monday’s game is no cinch even though the San Antonio Spurs (37-14) are short-handed. The Spurs beat the Bobcats Saturday night without Tiago Splitter (calf), Marco Belinelli (back), Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. But old and reliable Tim Duncan had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Patty Mills scored 32, 18 in the fourth quarter.
“They just don’t go away,” Stuckey said. “They got a great coach (Gregg Popovich), if not the best coach in the NBA right now. He has his guys playing each and every night. We know they are hurt but that does not matter. We have to come out and compete for 48 minutes.”
Stuckey enjoys playing elite teams like the Spurs.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “We just got to come out and be ready to play. We have to help out each other defensively and keep sharing the ball offensively and we should be good.”
Brandon Jennings enjoyed his best game of the season Saturday against Denver with 35 points and 12 assists, becoming the first Pistons to accomplish that since Isiah Thomas in 1988. It was a good weekend of shooting for Jennings. He was 19-for-35 shooting against Brooklyn and Denver and 11-for-18 from three-point range. He finished with 61 points and 22 assists.
... Josh Smith wasn’t bad, either. The two combined for 42-78 shooting and 114 points.