The Pistons lost another showdown game to the Heat, 108-74, on Wednesday night. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Miami — It’s a streak that was built like a house of cards. Over a five-week stretch, the Pistons won 12 of 14 games and catapulted from playoff purgatory into the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference. Although the level of competition wasn’t top-notch, the Pistons capitalized on the schedule and played well when they needed.
With a big week in front of them, the Pistons had an opportunity to get some strong tailwind in their playoff push. But after a pair of blowout losses to their playoff peers, Brooklyn and Miami, the air is out of the Pistons' sails and there are as many questions about their success this season as there are about their potential playoff possibilities.
By all accounts — from the players to coach Dwane Casey to team owner Tom Gores — there’s still plenty of value in making the playoffs, but whether they still get there in the mad sprint in the final 15 games is still to be determined.
This edition of News & Views takes a look at the slide this week, playoff implications and what Reggie Jackson’s injury means, as the Pistons finish the last month of the regular season.
News: The Pistons suffered blowout losses to the Nets and Heat and are in seventh in the East.
Views: A week of high expectations turned into more disappointment for Pistons fans, who wanted to believe that their hot streak in February and March was a harbinger of a big playoff run.
It still can be.
The blowout losses are deflating but not insurmountable. They’re just that — losses. Let’s say the Pistons lost one of the Bulls games last week and beat the Heat. Does anyone feel any different? Their record would be the same, but fans sometimes have the irrational feeling that games are must-wins or more important than others.
“That’s two games in a row where we didn’t come out in a playoff mode. (We lost to) two teams playing in a playoff mode,” Casey said. “It’s nothing schematically; it’s our approach. It’s on me to get them to play at a level. At this time of year, when you’re fighting for playoff position, you have to scrap and play hard.”
The Nets gained the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pistons and the Heat pulled within two games and evened their head-to-head mark at 2-2. If the Pistons and Heat end the season tied, the only way Miami gets the advantage is by winning its division.
There’s still plenty more work to do for all the playoff contenders. The Pistons have the 13th-ranked remaining strength of schedule; the Nets’ is No. 1 and Miami’s is seventh. If the Pistons don’t play well in the final month, none of that will matter. But if they even go 8-7 in the final 15 games, they’ll finish 42-40, which should be good enough to make it to the postseason.
News: Reggie Jackson injured his right ankle in the final minutes of Wednesday’s loss to the Heat.
Views: There was some concern on the Pistons’ bench after Jackson stepped on Zaza Pachulia’s foot and was in pain on the court. It didn’t look quite as severe as the grade-3 sprain he suffered last season, which kept him out of the lineup for 37 games — and the Pistons’ season suffered with a 12-25 stretch following.
After the game, Jackson was icing the ankle in the locker room and was in a relatively good mood. He didn’t need crutches immediately and the training staff wasn’t in DEFCON-1 level, so it looks to be a short-term injury.
Considering the Pistons’ record when Jackson was injured in the past two years, it’s a reminder of how important he is to the roster. He’s played well in their run since the end of January, and if they’re without him for an extended stretch in the final month, it could impact their playoff push substantially. Whether Jackson plays Friday against the Lakers is unclear.
News: The Pistons have 15 games left in the season, with very few rest days.
Views: In the final stretch of games, the Pistons have a day off after Monday’s second game of a back-to-back in Cleveland. They then head on the western trip for four games — including games at Portland, Golden State and Denver — in six days. In April, they finish the season with six games in 10 days, with a Memphis-New York back-to-back.
It’s a grueling race to the finish that will test the Pistons’ conditioning and mettle. It seemed that the Pistons looked sluggish in the two blowout losses.
“It’s more of a mental thing than anything," Blake Griffin said. "At this point of the season, everybody has the same amount of fatigue and experiencing the same amount of nick-knack injuries here and there. It’s about our mental fortitude of coming out in a better mindset at the start of games — myself included.
“If we have any fight or pride about us at all, we’ll come out and rectify that.”
Pistons vs. Lakers
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Lakers (31-36) will be on the second game of a back-to-back after facing Toronto on Thursday night. It’s unclear if LeBron James will play, as the Lakers are monitoring his playing time because they are seven games out of the playoff race in the West.