Phoenix — As the Pistons embark on their four-game western trip, the thoughts shift to the potential postseason appearance, which would be their second in the past decade.
The Pistons probably need to get to 41 or 42 wins to assure themselves a playoff spot, but finding those few more wins down the stretch will be tricky. They have just five more home games and as poorly as they’ve played on the road, they will be pressed to get those wins.
This week’s mailbag looks at potential playoff opponents, the recent surprising losses and players who have dipped in their production.
► Question. Should we be rooting to play Toronto in the first round or was our season sweep fool's gold? — @HayesNation88
► Answer. Of the available options, Toronto seems to be the best for the Pistons. The Bucks and Sixers seem to be unenviable matchups, and the Pacers have sunk to the No. 4 spot.
The Pistons’ three-game season sweep of the Raptors was one of the most surprising outcomes of the season. Chalk it up to coach Dwane Casey having some familiarity with some of their players’ strengths and weaknesses. Some of the players said they knew what Toronto’s tendencies, and were well-prepared for all three of their matchups.
It’s no secret Casey and the Raptors didn’t part on pleasant terms, and getting a chance to knock them out of the playoffs would be incentive enough for Casey. For the Pistons players, it wouldn’t be a horrible matchup. In the three games, the Raptors have shown different things. They were at full strength in the first meeting, but were missing Kawhi Leonard in the second and Kyle Lowry in the third.
► Q. Would like to hear your thoughts regarding the team showing little to no effort in their recent string of losses. They obviously have no reasonable excuse. Can’t imagine any other hungry, playoff fighting team out there is praised for trying hard, as this team often seems to be. — @ClarenceOver
► A. I’ll call it fatigue. They’ve played a constricted schedule, with three games in four nights that ended with the Cavs loss. Those games are going to happen, but fans tend to get too caught up in individual games. The day after getting a solid win over Toronto, the Pistons fell to Cleveland. It’s still 1-1.
Fans want to be able to predict when the Pistons will win or lose, and they’re just not that type of team. They’ll have some surprising wins and head-scratching losses. That’s the hallmark of a .500 team, which they very clearly are. They could lose three of the games on this western trip — or they could win three. There’s no way to truly predict it with any kind of confidence.
► Q. Do you see the Pistons adding another wing player this offseason? — @HilalEK
► A. That seems to be in the cards. They’ll probably take a long look at bringing Wayne Ellington back, but they really need a taller, more athletic wing. Casey lauded Ellington’s defensive prowess, but the biggest difference between Ellington and Reggie Bullock is his size, at 6-foot-7, compared to Ellington’s 6-5.
By dealing both Stanley Johnson and Bullock, the Pistons gave up most of their size. With a team option on Glenn Robinson III, the Pistons likely will look over all their options before making a decision on how to move forward.
It’s always a position of need in the NBA, but the Pistons will not have much money to spend. They’ll also look at Svi Mykhailiuk to fill some of that role in the summer, with some skill development.
► Q. Kennard was playing great. Then did not get the minutes. Let the young guy learn. Develop him! What happened? — @Danthemancarnah
► A. Teams have started to key on Luke Kennard more, understanding his impact on the bench unit. The Pistons’ reserves have stepped up their scoring and Langston Galloway, Ish Smith and Kennard have been at the forefront.
Teams have begun to blitz screens for Kennard, which takes away his 3-point looks and makes him find an open teammate. Casey has suggested Kennard will have to focus on the results, not just the stat sheet, to see his overall impact. That’s sound advice, but tough for some young players to do without thinking of their own stat lines.
Kennard will be fine, as long as the bench continues to produce, but will have to keep defenses honest with his hot shooting from beyond the arc.
► Q. Will Jon Leuer get any playing time before the season is over? — @Leslyv13
► A. Leuer will get some playing time, but only in specific instances. He’s not in the regular rotation, playing behind Thon Maker and Zaza Pachulia as the fifth big man. He’s done well in his short stints, but hasn’t been needed much on a regular basis.
There’s some benefit in showcasing Leuer, who has one more year left on his contract and could be a piece that the Pistons are looking to shed in the offseason.