Detroit — For many fans, the natural inclination is to think in terms of the schedule — win or loss. Easy game or tough game. It’s what makes the season make sense and how to gauge a team. Can the Pistons beat Team X?
It’s not that easy — and the Pistons aren’t that type of predictable team.
Coach Dwane Casey has said the Pistons are capable of beating any team on any given night but also can lose to any team. It’s a maddening existence for fans, shown in their 13-7 start and tough stretch in December and January. It has been revealed in recent weeks in their disappointing loss to the short-handed Cavaliers and then reinforced Saturday with an impressive win over the Trail Blazers, who were third in the West.
Against Portland, the Pistons scored just 11 points in the first quarter but stayed close by playing good defense and not letting the Trail Blazers build an insurmountable lead.
“You have to have that fortitude and stick to it. Even as bad as we played in the first half, we were still down by three; it wasn’t like (Portland) was setting the world on fire offensively, either,” Casey said. “In the second half, we just stayed with it.”
That the Pistons did it without Blake Griffin, who was a late scratch because of a sore left knee, is significant. In the first half, the offense was disjointed without their leading scorer, but the Pistons found a rhythm with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, who combined for 50 of their 99 points.
It’s unclear how long Griffin might be sidelined but it will be something to monitor, as the Pistons have their toughest three remaining games of the schedule upcoming, with two games against the Pacers and one against the Thunder.
The Drive examines some thoughts on the past week and the week ahead, as the Pistons push toward the playoffs:
► Griffin wasn’t listed on the injury report and he was on the official pregame roster as a starter, but he was a late scratch.
“He’s day-to-day. He tried to go in warmups and his knee was just sore,” Casey said after the game. “Instead of risking it, he pulled himself out.”
If Griffin’s knee doesn’t improve, they may be more cautious, choosing to rest him for a couple more games to ensure he could be ready for a potential playoff series.
►The Pistons have helped themselves immensely with the past two wins. They’re in sixth place in the East with six games remaining. Barring something strange, they’ll likely need to win three more to secure a playoff spot, which would be their second in the past 11 seasons. It would validate the front office’s decision to not sell off their assets or make a kneejerk decision to go after a costly quick-fix solution at the trade deadline.
►Saturday’s 30-year anniversary celebration of the Bad Boys championship teams brought out many veteran die-hard fans, who were eager to see many of their favorites, including Isiah Thomas, Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson and John Salley. Noticeably absent from that team were Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, who were said to have schedule conflicts.
►Some in the organization said that Dumars was invited but it seems the fences haven’t been mended in the relationship with the team. Dumars was team president and oversaw the ‘Goin’ to Work’ Pistons in their road to a championship but since he was later fired by Pistons owner Tom Gores, it’s been icy.
It’s unclear whether Dumars’ schedule might clear up for Sunday’s 15-year anniversary celebration with the 2004 team at Little Caesars Arena.
►Wayne Ellington is showing that he’s not just a 3-point shooter. He’s been finding his way inside the arc and finishing at the rim more often, which has made him harder to defend. He’s built a nice chemistry with Griffin and their improved combination is one of the encouraging signs for the Pistons in the past few weeks. More impressively, he provided bulletin-board material for the matchup with Magic this week — and backed it up with one of his best games of the season. That veteran presence could pay bigger dividends down the stretch and into the playoffs.
► While Griffin’s numbers have dipped a bit, Andre Drummond has elevated his game and has been one of the Pistons’ most consistent players. Casey pointed out that he doesn’t call plays for Drummond but he continues to work and finds ways to get offensive rebounds and remain effective on the defensive end, with switches and hedges and still guarding the rim. There’s plenty more room to grow on both ends of the court for Drummond but he’s making it clear that he’s a piece to build around for the Pistons’ future plans.
Pistons at Pacers
Tipoff: 7 Monday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Outlook: The Pistons (39-37) have won two straight games and control their own destiny for making the playoffs and their potential seeding. The Pacers (45-32) have lost seven of their last eight games and have tumbled to fifth in the East.