Soft spot in schedule offers Pistons chance to surge

Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — The Pistons are entering a crucial part of their season where the schedule eases up a bit and provides a chance to get back into the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

During the next month leading up to the All-Star break, the Pistons play eight of their 13 games at home, including seven of the next 10. Before they play the Spurs at The Palace Feb. 10, the Pistons will play six of their next nine games against teams currently sitting below the .500 mark, and the three games against teams above .500 (Washington, Boston, Indiana) aren’t exactly unwinnable.

Don’t tell that to Van Gundy, however.

“When you start talking about that, the implication is that some games are easier than others, which really hasn’t held up for us this year,” he said. “Everybody’s beatable and anybody can beat you. I look at every game as a game we should win. Just go out and play. Every game is important.”

The Pistons are the 10-seed in the Eastern Conference, a game and a half behind Chicago for the final playoff spot.  They also sit five games behind Atlanta, which holds the fourth spot. There’s a logjam in the Eastern Conference that the Pistons could certainly take advantage of with a softer schedule over the next month.

And while Van Gundy refutes the notion of an easier stretch, players are always keeping an eye on the schedule and the standings, Tobias Harris said.

“Every game is a great opportunity,” Harris said. “But especially when (you play) the teams in front of you. You want to prove yourself against them.”

With chances to pick up wins against some of the NBA’s lesser teams, and a couple of shots at three teams they’re chasing in the East, the Pistons know that it’s time to find that spark.

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“We look at it as a chance to get these wins and build some momentum,” Harris said. “I thought we played some really good basketball the last two (games). It’s about building consistency and continuing to strive for that.”

Leuer close to a return

Jon Leuer was a full participant at practice on Friday. The power forward has been sidelined with a knee issue since leaving six minutes into a game in Portland Jan. 8.

Van Gundy was non-committal about Saturday night’s game against the Wizards, given that Friday’s practice was non-contact, but he did leave the door open for the forward’s return.

“He looked good,” Van Gundy said. “It would be my assumption that he’s not ready to go, but we’re getting ready to ramp him up.”

Leuer said he had a little discomfort in his knee before the Portland game but tried to play through it. When he got on the court, he knew it was time to shut it down.

“I felt it in practice a couple of days before but I wanted to give it a go,” Leuer said. “But after those first five minutes, I knew it was something a little more serious.

It’s been feeling good and progressing well. It’s just a matter of having confidence that I can go out there, be pain free, and have the confidence that nothing will flare up or pinch.”

Van Gundy said that the team's other injured starter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, participated in the first defensive drill of practice but sat afterwards.

Caldwell-Pope has missed the Pistons’ last three games with a shoulder injury.

Pistons vs. Wizards

Tipoff: 6 p.m. Saturday, The Palace of Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: The Pistons get a shot at one of the teams they’re chasing in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards up-and-down style of play will test the Pistons defensively. John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 54 points in leading the Wizards to a 122-108 win in D.C in their last meeting Dec. 16. The Wizards enter on a four-game winning streak.