Still some important Pistons developments to watch
Auburn Hills — The Detroit Pistons’ season isn’t done yet, but the chase for the playoffs is.
With their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, the Pistons were eliminated from postseason contention, falling to 37-41, five games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who clinched the final spot in the Eastern Conference.
It’s the eighth time in the last nine seasons that the Pistons have missed the playoffs, with the lone appearance coming two years ago, in the second season of the tenure of team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy.
So, now what?
The Pistons still have something to play for in their final four games of the regular season.
Here are four things to watch as the regular season winds down ahead of Wednesday’s finale in Chicago:
STRETCH FOR .500
The Pistons can still take some solace in finishing at 41-41 if they win their final four games. Looking at the schedule, there’s a shot of that. Three opponents — the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Bulls — not only have losing records, but are jockeying for position at the top of the draft order, with some of the league’s worst records. Monday’s game against Toronto, the second of a back-to-back, obviously poses the biggest challenge. If they win the last four, the Pistons could have some confidence in finishing with 11 wins in their last 13 games. They will have surpassed their win total from last season (37) and gotten more wins than the Las Vegas oddsmakers projected (38), despite the myriad injuries.
BLAKE AND REGGIE EFFECT
Van Gundy said Blake Griffin will return to the lineup when he’s healthy, even if it’s only for the last two games. Griffin suffered a bone bruise in his right ankle and has missed the last week. Griffin and Reggie Jackson played just four games together — three wins and an overtime loss to the Houston Rockets — but there’s still more to glean from this roster. If the path forward includes counting on the combination of Jackson and Griffin, they’ll want to take a better look at what they can do together, even if it’s just for another couple games.
THE YOUNG GUYS
Much like last season, there’s still some valuable playing time there for young players such as Henry Ellenson, Luke Kennard and even Stanley Johnson. Johnson had 19 points Wednesday, his second-highest scoring production this season. He had five turnovers, but since returning to the starting lineup, he’s had some encouraging outings. It’s coming to a time that the Pistons will have to make a determination on what Johnson’s future with the team will be, as his potential big payday is looming after next season. Ellenson hasn’t had much playing time and has been up and down when he has played, so a similar decision will need to be made on his role.
The biggest development of the offseason will be whether Pistons owner Tom Gores decides to retain Van Gundy, who wears both hats as the team president and head coach, with his one year remaining on his deal. It’s not as if the final four games are going to determine whether Van Gundy or his staff remains around, but how things go — on and off the court — will be an interesting sidebar to the results. Van Gundy has said he wants to return next season, but understands that Gores has a decision to make about the future of the franchise. Gores said he’ll wait until after the season is done to determine the team’s direction.