Pistons face long road stretch at 'crucial time'

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — The Eastern Conference playoff race has turned into a NASCAR 20-lap dash to the finish.

And the Pistons are one of six teams bumping and grinding to the finish line.

The Heat currently holds down the seventh spot, with the Nets in eighth. The Pistons are 2.5 games behind the final spot with 23 games left.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the Celtics, Pacers and Hornets stand between the Pistons and the final playoff spot.

And more bad news? The Pistons play six of their next seven on the road, including a four-game Western swing. The lone home game is Sunday against the Hornets.

"If we can get through that stretch and still be in the hunt, then we'll have a chance," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "After that it becomes an even schedule (eight at home and eight on the road). ... It is a crucial time."

Van Gundy doesn't know how many games his team must win, but knows it must be north of .500 because of the number of teams in play.

"Those kind of things I don't bother with," he said. "You try to win every one of those and at the end of the season you hope you have enough wins to get in. ... Every game is important."

... The Pistons signed 6-foot-9 forward Quincy Miller to a second 10-day contract. Miller has yet to appear in a game after averaging 23.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in 15 games for Reno (D-League).

Down the stretch

A look at the next seven Pistons games, six of which are on the road:

AT NEW ORLEANS

Tonight: 8 p.m.

Outlook: MVP candidate Anthony Davis, starting PG Jrue Holiday and key bench player Ryan Anderson are out. That should give the Pistons a shot. The problem is the Pelicans have won five of six.

Prediction: Loss

AT HOUSTON

Friday: 8 p.m.

Outlook: The Rockets have bonded with Dwight Howard (injured) on the bench. And James Harden won a lot of fans by lighting up the Cavaliers.

Prediction: Loss

CHARLOTTE

Sunday: 6 p.m.

Outlook: The Hornets are fading, which should mean an easy victory for the Pistons. But they lost to the Knicks last weekend.

Prediction: Win

AT L.A. LAKERS

March 10: 10:30 p.m.

Outlook: No Kobe Bryant, no hope. This is the first game of the West Coast trip, and the Pistons should be fresh.

Prediction: Win

AT GOLDEN STATE

March 11: 10:30 p.m.

Outlook: The Warriors are 24-2 at home and feature the "Splash Brothers" — Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. The Pistons play the night before while the Warriors are off.

Prediction: Loss

AT PORTLAND

March 13: 10 p.m.

Outlook: The Blazers thrive behind G Damien Lillard and F LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard has more 3-pointers his first three seasons than anyone.

Prediction: Loss

AT UTAH

March 14: 9 p.m.

Outlook: This is a getaway game — and most teams don't play well in this situation. Plus, the Jazz is off the night before. If the Pistons are serious about the playoffs, this is a must win.

Prediction: Win