Beard: Squeaking into playoffs might have to pass for progress for fading Pistons
Detroit — For part of the first quarter on Sunday, the Pistons fans at Little Caesars Arena were as loud as they’ve been all season. The Pistons had an 18-9 lead and after a putback and a big dunk by Andre Drummond looked like they might run the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets off the court.
With a playoff spot in their sights, the Pistons had the fans behind them and with the 2004 “Goin’ to Work” championship team in attendance, everything was lining up for a big night.
And then it fell apart.
It’s been a recurring script for the Pistons, who were not good enough on Sunday to snatch a playoff spot that was within their grasp. Instead, they had another rough second quarter, dug a 23-point deficit and almost dug their way out.
Almost isn’t good enough for the playoffs, but the Pistons might just be.
“We didn’t play for 48 minutes like we understood the implications of what this season is coming down to,” Blake Griffin said Sunday. “That’s not to say we can’t change that and be better in these next two games, but tonight we didn’t have it.”
They need to win the final two games to ensure a playoff spot and there are myriad combinations of ways that they can make it with just one victory. As it stands, the Pistons have a four-game losing streak and are in eighth, just a game-and-a-half behind the Magic — who beat the Celtics Sunday night — and with the Hornets and Heat tied, a game behind, they don’t have a large margin for error.
The Pistons finish with a back-to-back, Tuesday at home against the Grizzlies and Wednesday at the Knicks. Both games are very winnable, but with the way the last week has gone, nothing is guaranteed.
“We just have to be ready to go these next two games. I don’t know how much hanging our heads, feeling sorry for ourselves and being stuck on this game (will help),” Griffin said. “We need to make some changes and correct some mistakes and move forward.”
This Pistons team, as assembled, isn’t going to scare anyone in the playoffs. With the sixth seed out of reach, the Pistons — if they even make the playoffs — would likely play the top-seeded Bucks or second-seeded Raptors in the first round.
Although the Pistons have won all three games against Toronto, Dwane Casey’s former team, they don’t match up well at all with the Bucks and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, having lost all four of those meetings.
The Pistons (39-41) can’t finish with a winning record with only two games remaining in the regular season. And even if they get to .500, they’re doing what mediocre teams do — win some and lose some. All they’ll have to do the rest of the way is win one of the two remaining games and eke their way into the playoffs.
That’s a step.
There’s more to go. The long-range plan is to build around Griffin, and likely Drummond. They have some young pieces such as Luke Kennard and their rookie crop, but given their foibles down the stretch, it’s no stretch to say that there will be some big changes to the roster in the offseason.
The Pistons already are in a building mode, but they’re doing it on the fly.
Even making the playoffs will be an improvement over their past two seasons, but they already have the evidence that they’re not where they want to be, and the playoffs will give some more indication of places they can improve.
Even if they make the playoffs, it might not be pretty, but it’s a direction.