Beard: This week's games to have major effect on Pistons' playoff scenarios
Detroit — Langston Galloway wasn’t afraid to address the gravity of the Pistons’ schedule this week, featuring games at Brooklyn and Miami. In what could be a critical week for their playoff hopes — and seeding therein — the Pistons can make things a lot easier if they handle their business.
“This is a playoff game for us — for both games,” Galloway said after Sunday’s win over the Bulls, the Pistons’ fifth straight. “We have to take care of Brooklyn (on Monday) and we’re excited because this is a test to see where we stand on the pedestal.”
The Pistons (34-31) are playing some of their best basketball of the season, using their 12 wins in the last 14 games to catapult to sixth place in the East, with the Nets just a half-game behind and the Heat 3.52 games behind in eighth.
With their blowout win, the Pistons were able to rest their starters in the fourth quarter, to help prepare for Monday’s showdown, which will give the winner the tiebreaker with the head-to-head advantage.
For coach Dwane Casey, it’s a push to start playing their best in the playoff push and instill a mental toughness in a squad that doesn’t have much playoff experience.
“It comes from our leadership, from Blake (Griffin), Andre (Drummond), Zaza (Pachulia) and the older guys who have been there and understand what’s at stake,” Casey said. “Some of the younger guys, even Luke (Kennard), don’t realize the gravity and the pressures of the playoffs and what it is to get into the playoffs.
“We all have to emphasize and communicate what’s at stake and live it. It’s on all of us to get it done.”
For the Pistons, the two showdown games will end a condensed week, with four games in six days. The bright side is that they’re mentally sharp and playing with a focus that should carry over.
“We’ve just been playing basketball the right way. I’ve said it over and over again in this 14-game stretch. Making the extra passes, the right passes, trusting each other defensively, being there on rotations where you need to be, all those things,” Griffin said. “Whether you’re hitting shots or not, those things will keep you in the game. You know eventually you’ll get hot.”
The Pistons finish the week Friday at home against the Lakers — who likely will be without LeBron James, who will be on the second game of a back-to-back, in addition to Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both ruled out for the remainder of the season. Sunday features a rematch with the Toronto Raptors.
The Monday Drive has some other observations from the Pistons’ run:
1. Langston Galloway is on a hot streak from 3-point range, making his last 12 over the last three games. It’s the longest streak in the NBA from beyond the arc this season and Galloway is fitting in well with the bench to provide the spark they need to sustain the energy form the starting group.
2. Griffin continues to post big numbers, though he looks to be a little worn down. His 28 points Sunday came in just three quarters. He still is mixing his drives and 3-pointers and keeping defenses off balance.
“(The rest) was what we were hoping for. We’re not in a situation where we can do load management and have games off because every game is important for us,” Casey said of Griffin. “What we can do is try to manage the minutes and games like today help us do that when we get out to a big lead and take care of business.”
3. In his last 19 games, Reggie Jackson is at 47 percent (55-of-118) on 3-pointers, which has forced defenses to adjust to his improved pick-and-roll play and decide how best to guard him. It’s a conundrum when Griffin and Drummond are playing well, plus Wayne Ellington as an improved and more consistent shooter on the other wing. Jackson has been a difference-maker on the offensive end.
4. The bench unit as a whole has been better, spearheaded by Kennard and Galloway. They dominated the Bulls in both games and when Ish Smith is pushing the pace and making defenses collapse to guard his dribble-penetration, it’s breaking things down more easily for the Pistons to succeed. Casey has played all-reserve lineups as well as mixed in some starters to ensure they don’t falter.
5. Drummond, even when he seems to have an off game — as he did with 16 points and 15 points on Sunday — is making his mark. He’s giving defenses fits with having to guard him in the pick-and-roll with Jackson or Griffin but his energy on the offensive glass also wears them down. His stamina and engagement are much improved and he looks like he could be a candidate for one of the All-NBA teams.