Cavs or Raptors: Van Gundy has no preference

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Pistons are in the playoffs, but now what?

Unlike the Red Wings, their postseason fate didn’t go down to the last game, but the final week still holds a little intrigue, namely, who their first-round opponent will be.

The Pistons (43-37) are in eighth place, in a virtual tie with the seventh-place Indiana Pacers, who hold the tiebreak edge over them. In the playoffs, the seventh seed faces the second seed — currently the Toronto Raptors — and the eighth-place team faces the top seed, which would be the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t have a preference for whom the Pistons will face in the opening round, which likely would begin Saturday or Sunday on the road. In some ways, it’s just about finishing the season on a strong note.

“Both those teams are really good, Toronto and Cleveland. I’m of the mindset that you always want to finish as high as you can finish,” Van Gundy said after Friday’s clinching win over the Washington Wizards. “It’s not a matter of I’d rather play Toronto or that I don’t want to play Cleveland.”

The Pistons have won two of the three meetings against the Cavaliers this season, including Feb. 22 at Cleveland. But that doesn’t mean there’s any inherent advantage, especially with the loads of postseason experience the Cavaliers have.

In 2009, the last time the Pistons made the playoffs, they were swept out in the first round by Cleveland, as LeBron James led the way with 32 points, 11.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists.

Van Gundy doesn’t seem intent on resting players, unless the playoff position already is decided. With his starters playing career highs in minutes this season, it would be a welcome respite for the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris.

That’ll be the balancing act that Van Gundy uses in staying fresh and focused and preparing for their first-round foe.

“If you have a choice between finishing seventh and eighth, seventh sounds better to me — that’s the way I am. I never really coached a game that I didn’t care whether we’ve won or lost,” Van Gundy said.

“That doesn’t mean (skip rest). We’d have to look if we have some guys banged up and (heavy) minutes.

“We’ll play and try to win.”

News: Andre Drummond watched from the bench for the last 8:51 of the clinching win against the Wizards.

Views: Van Gundy said Drummond wasn’t happy about being pulled for missing free throws and having to watch during the most important game of the season. Drummond said on Twitter that he was mourning the loss of a friend who was killed earlier this year.

Regardless of the reason, it wasn’t a good look for Drummond. While his teammates and The Palace fans were in a frenzy, he wasn’t participating in huddles and sitting alone on the bench.

His actions drew ire on social media, but it’s all part of his maturation process.

Until Drummond improves on his 36-percent free-throw shooting, he’ll be a liability at the end of games.

News: Reggie Jackson had 39 points — one off his career high — in the win over Washington.

Views: Jackson had been in a bit of a shooting slump, but was efficient — 14-of-20 from the field — on Friday. He went 4-of-5 on 3-pointers and made all seven free throws. He added nine assists and had the right pace to his game to carry the Pistons to the win.

He’s still evolving into the right mix of aggression, probing and passing in his game and he’ll still have plenty of ups and downs, but Friday was one of the biggest ups. In Jackson’s last four games, he’s averaging 26.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5 assists, shooting 47 percent from 3-point range.

Opponents are putting Jackson at the top of their scouting report, which is making things harder than they were at the start of the season. As he improves on finding his rhythm and reading defenses, he’ll be better able to adjust accordingly.

The matchups

How the Pistons have fared this season against their possible first-round playoff opponents:

Vs. Cavaliers (2-1): Nov. 17, W, 104-99, home; Jan. 29, L, 114-106, home; Feb. 22, W, 96-88, away; Wednesday, away

Vs. Raptors (1-2): Jan. 30, L, 111-107, away; Feb. 8, L, 103-89, home; Feb. 28, W, 114-101, home