'Pressure' squarely on Pistons' shoulders with just two games to go
Auburn Hills — It’s pretty simple to figure out the best route for the Pistons to get into the playoffs — win both of their remaining games, home against the Grizzlies on Tuesday and on the road Wednesday against the Knicks.
If the Pistons (39-41) happen to lose one of those games, things start to get a bit dicey.
Tuesday’s matchup in the home finale doesn’t look to be a huge problem, given that the Grizzlies won’t have Mike Conley, Jaren Jackson Jr., C.J. Miles, Joakim Noah, Dillon Brooks, Avery Bradley, Kyle Anderson or Jonas Valanciunas available.
Wednesday's game against the Knicks (16-64), who already have clinched the worst record in the league, could get interesting, especially if former Pistons forward Henry Ellenson has a revenge game in him.
The Pistons are in eighth place and can conceivably move up to seventh, only if they win their final two games and the Magic (41-40) lose their finale, on Wednesday at Charlotte. Any other scenario with the Pistons in the playoffs would put them at the No. 8 seed, opening at top-seeded Milwaukee.
“That should be fun; that should be exciting — it is to me to be at this time of year,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s pressure, yes, because it’s what our job is. It’s what we’re trying to grow to and improve to and understand what it takes to compete under those circumstances.
“We’ve played good basketball to put ourselves in this position, not played well enough to be in fourth through sixth, but we’re still in the hunt with two games to go.”
There also is the possibility that the Pistons lose both of their games and with some wins by Miami or Charlotte, the Pistons could miss the playoffs entirely. There are some scenarios where the Pistons could win either of their games and still make the playoffs or miss it completely.
What’s clear is that they can’t get to the No. 6 position, because they even if they get to 41 wins and the Nets and Magic both lose their final games, those two teams would have the necessary tiebreakers to take sixth place.
The Pistons’ loss to the Hornets on Sunday was damaging to their playoff hopes — the Pistons could have clinched a playoff spot with a win, while also eliminating the Hornets. Instead, they have to sweat things out until the final game.
“We’ve created these two games of our season. Tomorrow night is like Game 7 for us. We’ve done this to ourselves,” Casey said. “It’s not like we’re playing terrible basketball; we’re playing in spurts — that’s the problem.”
Report on Griffin 'encouraging'
Blake Griffin looked like he was playing clearly at less than 100 percent in Sunday’s loss. He didn’t have much lift, even on a potential dunk attempt, and Casey said that there’s no chance of further damage to Griffin’s ailing left knee by his continuing to play.
“He worked (Sunday night) and did some rehab after the game,” Casey said. “He said he felt better today than he did yesterday, which is encouraging.”
Griffin had 16 points and looked like he was laboring up and down the court. If the Pistons were able to clinch a playoff spot, he might have been able to get a rest day or two, but given their dire situation, Griffin might have to give it his all to ensure they make the playoffs.
Grizzlies at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Pistons (39-41) have lost seven of their last nine games and need to win their last two games to assure a playoff spot. The Grizzlies (32-48) are not playing most of their starters, including Mike Conley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Avery Bradley.