Pistons poised for first playoff spot since 2009

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Reggie Bullock proved coach Stan Van Gundy's decision to make him the first player off the bench a wise one as Bullock had 13 points and a season-high six assists against the Magic.

Orlando, Fla. — It’s almost like Christmas Eve for the Pistons.

They want to open their gifts now — namely the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2009. But, coach Stan Van Gundy likes to wait until Christmas Day to celebrate.

Friday night, the Pistons can open that present with a victory over the Wizards at The Palace.

There won’t, however, be any confetti or huge celebration. But making it to the postseason would be a huge step forward for the Pistons (42-37), who already are assured of the first winning season since 2007-08.

Van Gundy let loose a little emotion after the final buzzer of Wednesday’s come-from-behind 108-104 victory at Orlando, smiling and hugging some of his players on the way to the locker room. But in the postgame news conference, he made sure no one looked ahead.

“(There’s no relief) at all,” Van Gundy said Wednesday. “We beat the Bulls, then I saw the Miami game (a loss) after that — so no relief whatsoever. I’ll have relief when the magic number is zero.”

Asked about whether the last couple games would be important to get into playoff form, Van Gundy headed off the query without blinking.

“I’m not even going to address a question that talks about what we do if we clinch,” he said. “We have to win another game.”

The players said they have been in playoff mode the past couple weeks, but getting the last one might be the hardest. Besides Washington, Detroit finishes the regular season at home against Miami and at Cleveland.

Bullock promoted

It was business as usual for Reggie Bullock — almost.

During pregame warm-ups, Van Gundy let him know he was getting a promotion of sorts. He’d be the first man off the bench, replacing Stanley Johnson.

It’s the first significant playing time Bullock has seen in nearly three weeks. During that 10-game stretch in which Johnson suffered a shoulder injury, Bullock was a critical piece in keeping the Pistons afloat, averaging 7.7 points and 3.6 rebounds and shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers.

Against the Magic, Bullock responded with 13 points, a season-high six assists and no turnovers.

“It’s just showing (Van Gundy) believes in me and leaves me in at the end of the game,” Bullock said. “I know I’m a good player, so having confidence is the biggest thing.”

Van Gundy said his assistants prodded him to make the change with Johnson shooting 29 percent in the 14 games since the injury and averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds.

In going with Bullock, Van Gundy made the right choice at the right time.

“Phenomenal,” point guard Reggie Jackson said. “He found great shots; he was aggressive and played extremely well, along with the whole second unit for us.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Wizards at Pistons

Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Friday, The Palace, Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: With a victory, the Pistons clinch at least the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. ... The Wizards are 3-0 against the Pistons, but may be without All-Star G John Wall (knee).