The Monday Drive: Pistons embark on critical stretch
It’s not over ‘til it’s over. The Pistons have shown that fans and media would be foolhardy to start writing them off before their regular season ends on April 13 in Cleveland.
The Pistons are on another up-and-down trend, following a four-game win streak with a two-game skid -- losses at San Antonio and New York -- before Sunday night’s win over Portland at The Palace.
The Pistons are 32-31 and just outside the playoff picture in the East, but of their 19 remaining games, 11 are at home. They’re embarking on a four-game road swing at the Mavericks, Hornets, Sixers and Wizards that could shape their playoff outlook.
Ahead of the road string, the Monday Drive got some regular maintenance and revs up for the last big trip of the season. Here are this week’s 10 reflections on the Pistons and the NBA:
1. The road trip is critical. The Pistons haven’t played Dallas yet, but they’ve won all three against Philadelphia, a game that looms as a must-win. The Pistons have lost to the Hornets once and the Wizards twice already this season. If they could salvage two games from the trip, they could be in a good position entering the home stretch, when they play the next nine at The Palace, where they’ve won three straight.
2. Reggie Jackson loves playing the Blazers. In two games against Portland this season, he averaged 35 points. That’s a pretty good feat, given the quality backcourt they have in C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard. The pick-and-roll worked well with Jackson and Andre Drummond, and although Jackson’s 3-point shot wasn’t falling, he had a nice, measured in-between game that the Blazers couldn’t stop.
3. Reggie Bullock hasn’t been bad, either. In his last six games, he’s averaging 9.7 points and shooting 62 percent on 3-pointers (13-of-21). He’s replaced Stanley Johnson (shoulder sprain) and is averaging 24 minutes during the recent stretch. In his first 19 games this season, he totaled six points and hit just one triple. Bullock has taken advantage of the opportunity — and looking more like he did in the preseason.
4. That Tobias Harris trade is working out, very well. Harris is getting to the basket and providing a reliable frontcourt scoring option. He’s posting 16.9 points and 5.8 rebounds, hitting 44 percent on 3-pointers and 51 percent from the field. He’s looked fluid on offense and has been another lengthy, athletic body on defense. He’s also made his mark in the locker room, as an easygoing, smart teammate.
5. Andre Drummond is putting up ridiculous double-double numbers again. He had 14 points and 18 rebounds Sunday and 21 points and 16 boards against the Knicks. When he’s playing with energy and defensive effort, he’s a game-changing big man who’s worth every bit of the max contract he’s likely to sign this summer. Fans want to see that every game, which is tough, even in his fourth season. Give it time — the lapses will become fewer and farther between.
6. Coach Stan Van Gundy’s postgame comments following the loss to the Knicks Saturday were a terse 80 seconds or so. But he jammed almost every negative comment he could, roasting the team’s lackluster performance. The shtick doesn’t get old for media members, but for the players, it starts to leak out of their ears quickly. Imagine a coach in high school, college or AAU trying that in a public setting. Not at all.
7. Justin Harper might stay a while. He signed another 10-day contract with the Pistons and continues to get playing time, either through foul trouble in the frontcourt or just giving rest to Harris or Marcus Morris. He hasn’t withered in the spotlight, either, making shots when he’s had chances. Harper could stick for the remainder of the season, if Anthony Tolliver (knee) and Johnson are on the shelf much longer.
8. The Golden State Warriors are humans. In another trip to Bizarro-World, the Lakers beat the Warriors, 112-95, on Sunday night. Repeat after me: “Any team can lose to anyone on any given day.” Now forget that. The Warriors are entitled to an off-game every once in a while, but if not for the woeful Sixers, the Lakers would be the worst team in the NBA. The Bulls’ 72-win mark still is in sight, but this Golden State loss is a head-scratcher.
9. The Spurs signed veteran Andre Miller after waiving Ray McCallum. Then they signed Kevin Martin for their run to the playoffs. Yeah, the rich just keep getting richer. As if they didn’t have enough veteran pieces with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, they just keep adding. They fact is that there’s a realistic chance they can catch the Warriors for home-court advantage, which would be critical in a potential West matchup.
10. The East playoff race is starting to get separation, with the margin between the 3 seed and the 9 seed widening to 5.5 games. Boston and Miami are moving ahead in those two spots, while the gap between No. 5 and No. 9 is at three games. The Pistons are on the outside looking in, but will have some work to do if they’re going to try to crack that No. 4 spot for home court. At this juncture, just getting in the postseason is a win.