Cleveland — The Pistons are at a point where they have to think about the big picture. With three-plus weeks of the regular season remaining, they’re in a good position to make the playoffs — which they’ve only done once in the past decade.
After winning 14 of their last 18, the Pistons have shot up the standings and sit in sixth place in the East with 13 games to go. ESPN’s playoff odds have the Pistons at a 98.9-percent chance of making the postseason and fivethirtyeight.com puts their odds at 99 percent.
The Pistons decided to rest Blake Griffin for Monday’s matchup in Cleveland, marking just the third game — the previous two were double-digit losses — that Griffin has missed this season.
It’s not because they were facing the struggling Cavaliers (17-53) that coach Dwane Casey decided to rest Griffin. Looking at the bigger picture of the coming western trip that begins Thursday — with four games in six days — it was an opportunity to get Griffin multiple days of rest.
“We have a little bit of cushion for these last three spots. There was nothing certain — and still not — but we need to give him a couple days and (we have) games under our belts to give him a rest,” Casey said before Monday’s game. “That was the determining factor, giving him days in a row off. If we can continue to play well, we can find some other time for him. Right now, we feel this would be good for him.”
It’s also good for this week’s western trip, which includes games against the Suns, Trail Blazers, Warriors and Nuggets, which likely is the biggest stretch of the remaining schedule. The Pistons haven’t played Portland yet, but has won at home against each of the other three teams.
If the Pistons are going to do well on the trip, they would benefit from having a healthier Griffin leading the charge. Casey indicated that the eye test showed that Griffin was due for another rest day, having not sat since Jan. 10 in Sacramento.
“Laboring up and down the floor (is a sign). This is the first season he’s played this many games, in this role, carrying a team and being the man for our team,” Casey said. “It’s not easy and he’s done a heck of a job of doing it. We’re going to need him these next couple weeks."
In his 13 games since the All-Star break, Griffin is averaging just 18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists, compared to 26.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the previous 54 games.
After a few injury-filled seasons with the Clippers, Griffin looks to be leading the Pistons back to the playoffs. His next game wit be his 68th, his highest total in a season since he played 80 in 2013-14.
Standing by Kennard
Luke Kennard has cooled a bit since his string of hot games, scoring in double digits in just one of his previous five, after a string of nine in the previous 11. Casey is looking for the second-year guard to remain focused and not worry about his role — because it’s not all about the numbers.
“It’s a learning experience for him. He’s doing a heck of a job. the key thing for him to get used to is not looking at the stat sheet and seeing 3s go up,” Casey said. “It’s a sign of respect that they’re taking (3s away). He’s making them pay by reading the situations and making passes out of the double-team, which is just as important, when you get two players committed to you.
“I know he doesn’t feel it and realize it but he’s still a key part of what we do. Sometimes, you run pick-and-roll with him, knowing they’ll blitz to set him up and he’s doing a good job kicking it out.”