Detroit — It’s been a critical two weeks for the Pistons and their playoff hopes. In only a five-game stretch, they’ve managed to get on a mini-streak, going 4-1 and vaulting themselves back into the playoff push.
At the end of January, the Pistons were teetering, about 2½ behind the Charlotte Hornets and a bit more behind the Miami Heat. The Pistons were stagnant, having lost three of four, including a tough loss at Dallas on Jan. 25.
They followed with a 10-point loss to the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks and at 21-28, were a season-worst seven games under .500, looking more like a team headed for the draft lottery than a potential postseason spot.
Winning four of five — it would have been a five-game win streak if they haven’t blown a 25-point lead against the Clippers — has vaulted them back into the playoff picture. With Miami’s loss at Golden State on Sunday night, the Pistons moved into the eighth spot in the East, with 28 games to go.
Before the streak, Blake Griffin had hinted that the Pistons were only a good week away from getting back in the race — and it’s happening.
“I never lost faith; I’ve been talking about it for the past few weeks. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy; everybody had us picked in the eighth spot anyway, but it wasn’t going anywhere,” coach Dwane Casey said before Monday’s game. “We haven’t accomplished anything yet but that has been the goal the entire time — to keep that focus.
“We haven’t played consistent basketball — that’s a given. With that said, it is going to be a battle from sixth through ninth the rest of the way. So, it is going to be on us to come out each and every night with that chip, that understanding, that goal and that laser (focus) of how we want to try to get there.”
After Monday’s matchup with the Wizards, the Pistons still have five games remaining against the teams close to them in the playoff race — two against the Heat (ninth place) and one each against the Hornets (seventh), Nets (sixth) and Magic (10th).
Those head-to-head matchups can play a big part in how the playoff race shakes out in the last two months of the season. The Pistons seem to have been rejuvenated by their two trades, bringing in Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk and adding free agent Wayne Ellington over the weekend.
It’s going to take time for them to establish chemistry — and it’s likely that Ellington will join the starting lineup eventually. Creating some distance between themselves and the teams below them — the Wizards and Magic are within two games — is a priority.
“It’s very important. It’s our last time playing (the Wizards) and we’re 1-1. It’s very important that we come out and play the we want to play,” Casey said. “We’ve had two excellent days of practice and the spirit and bounce I don’t know if it’s from the new guys coming in or what it is, but we’ve had a bounce in our step and we have to transfer it from practice to the game.”
Jackson picks up
During the recent surge, the Pistons have gotten more consistent contributions from Reggie Jackson. Over the last eight games, he’s posting 19.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists and hitting 44 percent on 3-pointers.
It’s as good as a trade-deadline acquisition, as he’s anchored the starting unit and helped them get out to quicker starts in first quarters — as opposed to double-digit deficits.
“Reggie has played the best basketball this season in the last three or four weeks. The consistency from him has been huge for everybody because it helps free everybody,” Casey said. “It gives Blake more room, it helps with running the floor and spacing when he is penetrating because they are collapsing on him. He can kick out and now when the ball does come out, he is in a rhythm and shooting the ball.
“So it’s all good for everybody and again, he’s doing a much better job on the defensive end also.”