Auburn Hills — With the regular season dwindling down to the final few games and the Pistons’ playoff chances dangling by a thinning thread, there doesn’t seem to be much to play for.
They trail the Milwaukee Bucks by four games with five left to play and a magic number of two — a combination of wins by the Bucks or losses by the Pistons — will snip that thread.
The Pistons have gotten on a hot streak and the thought of playing younger players such as Henry Ellenson and Dwight Buycks more could be the best path forward.
Not so fast.
The pending end of the season doesn’t mean it’s time to fold up the tent and start looking forward to the summer. One key indicator is coach Stan Van Gundy’s unwillingness to shut down Blake Griffin, who has missed the last week because of a bone bruise in his right ankle. Griffin continues to work toward returning this week and playing in one of the last four games of the season and Van Gundy says there’s no plan to shut him down.
“Obviously, we’re not going to do anything stupid; we’re not bringing him back if he’s not ready to come back. If he’s ready to come back, he’ll play, whether it’s the last two or the last game,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “It’s not that so much. If a guy’s ready, he’ll play.”
It’s part of Van Gundy’s old-school philosophy with resting players. Though the Pistons didn’t make the playoffs last season, he doesn’t follow the more common practice of shutting down superstars toward the end of the season, which more teams around the league are starting to do.
“They shut people down even if they’re healthy. I’ve always been the same way: either a guy can play or he can’t,” Van Gundy said. “If it’s a situation where a guy is in a lot of pain but he’ll go out and do it, that might be determined by where you are in the season.
“If he’s healthy and he can play, then he’s going to play.”
Van Gundy said Griffin has progressed in his rehab, getting on an anti-gravity treadmill at 60 percent of his body weight. Griffin won’t play Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers, but could return Friday against the Dallas Mavericks.
Drummond fined $15,000
It was a quick pushing incident, resulting in a quick ejection.
And the big fines usually come after the ejections.
Pistons center Andre Drummond learned Tuesday the price of being involved in a fracas with Nets forward Quincy Acy in Sunday’s game: $15,000.
Drummond got word of the penalty two days after the Pistons’ 108-96 win over the Nets at Barclays Center. With 18.4 seconds left in the third quarter, Drummond and Acy were going after a rebound and Acy fouled Drummond, pulling him by the waist.
Drummond took umbrage and after the two got nose-to-nose, Drummond shoved Acy away. After teammates and referees looked to cool things down, Acy broke away and tried to run at Drummond, but was stopped by teammate Joe Harris.
Acy was fined $25,000 for “aggressively pursuing Drummond and attempting to further an altercation,” according to a statement from the NBA.
“You’re not allowed to get into those things, even if you’re the guy retaliating,” Van Gundy said. “(Drummond) was fine with it.”
Both players were assessed a technical foul and were ejected from the game.
Drummond ripped off his shirt as he headed to the locker room at Barclays Center.
Van Gundy said he stayed up to watch the end of the Michigan-Villanova NCAA title game and had a typical assessment of Villanova’s dominant victory.
“Villanova, if you go through a tournament and don’t win a game by less than 12, you’re clearly the best team in the country — and they won it,” he said. “I felt bad for Michigan. Being in-state, I wanted them to win. I’ve known both Jay (Wright) and John Beilein for about the same amount of time: forever.
“Jay had already won one, so I was pulling for John as well as Michigan.”
Although Michigan played a good first half, they had no answer for Donte DiVincenzo, who was named Most Outstanding Player.
“The way Villanova played, particularly DiVincenzo — even if (Michigan) had played better, it would have been very hard to beat Villanova. I don’t think it was anything Michigan did wrong or didn’t do well; Villanova was that good.”
Despite some criticism lobbed at the NCAA and some teams because of the FBI investigation into illegal payments to players, Van Gundy was happy to see the two finalists, because of their reputations as clean programs.
“Outstanding. That was maybe the most positive development of the entire season: to have those two playing in the national championship game,” he said.
76ers at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Pistons (37-40) have won seven of their last eight but have lost all three meetings this season. The Sixers (46-30) are jockeying for the No. 3 seed in the playoffs with the Cavaliers and Pacers.