Pistons forward Blake Griffin talks to the media before Friday's home game against Dallas. Rod Beard
Auburn Hills — Blake Griffin put up some shots on the practice court after the Detroit Pistons’ shootaround on Friday morning.
It wasn’t a harbinger of Griffin’s return from a bone bruise in his right ankle. He was wearing slide shoes and only got up a few shots before ending the impromptu workout. With the Pistons eliminated from playoff contention, Griffin still wants to play before the end of the season, but coach Stan Van Gundy ruled him out of Friday night’s matchup against the Dallas Mavericks at Little Caesars Arena.
Van Gundy said the odds of getting Griffin back for one of the final three games was “50/50 at best” but Griffin still has been working to try to return, while balancing the desire to not further the injury.
“That was first question: Is this something I can play through? Our doctors felt strongly that this wasn’t something that I should push because with a little bit of rest, I’d be fine,” Griffin said. “If you come back too soon or push too much, it becomes a longer thing. This shouldn’t be that long.
“I’ve had to sit out my fair share of games and I hate sitting out; it’s not fun by any means.”
Many teams around the league who have either locked in their playoff position or are out of the playoffs are shutting down their star players.
One motivation is to give younger players a longer look in game action and another is to prevent injuries. That would seem to fit in this case with Griffin, but that’s not Van Gundy’s philosophy, nor Griffin’s desire.
“I do understand at this time of the year being smart and making sure, and I’m also looking forward to going into the offseason healthy for the first time in two years,” Griffin said. “That’s huge for me because the offseason is a big time for me to get work in and get better and in this situation, having a chance to know you’re with this team going into the offseason. Those things were all weighed pretty heavily.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy talks to the media before Friday's game against Dallas. Rod Beard
Griffin’s arrival in the Jan. 29 trade that sent starters Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley to the Clippers brought with it intense optimism that the Pistons would be able to snap out of their malaise and streak toward the playoffs. It didn’t quite work out that way. They had a four-game win streak but then lost 13 of 16, essentially pushing them out of the postseason.
“(Getting to the playoffs) was the goal and that was our push,” Griffin said. “When you take away two guys from this team who played significant minutes and add a new guy and Reggie (Jackson) being hurt, I don’t know that things are going to come together within a month.
“March was a big month for making that push.”
The Pistons followed with a string of seven wins in eight games but were eliminated with Wednesday’s loss to the Sixers.
“This time of year, the thing I hated the most was the last six or eight games, it wasn’t really in our hands. It was more of a situation that if Miami or Milwaukee wins, it’s a done deal,” he said. “It’s better if we win out and we’re in. it gives you a little something extra. It’s disappointing but at the same time, you have to start somewhere.
“Getting Reggie back healthy was that start and having this whole summer, a healthy summer for most of our guys, will be huge.”
Part of what’s derailed the Pistons’ season have been the injuries to Jackson (ankle), who missed 37 games, and now Griffin’s minor injury, which will cause him to miss at least five.
They haven’t had a lot of time to develop chemistry, but in their four games together — three wins and an overtime loss at Houston — they have given some optimism for what can be a good trio, along with Andre Drummond.
“Having Reggie and Andre and a full group healthy and ready to go, I like our squad,” Griffin said. “We have a pretty high ceiling and we can make a run in the East.”
That’s the upside for next year, but because of the injury and adjustment phase of getting Griffin oriented, the Pistons took a step back. They were 12-25 without Jackson and 25-16 with him, and with a full summer to get healthy and build more chemistry, there’s reason to believe things can get turned around.