In this My Pistons Report, we learn that the Pistons players are in fact human. That’s not acommentary on their two road losses following their stint as the hottest team in basketball. It’s recognizing that the streak started right as the trade deadline ended. It’s one thing to be professional, which the entire roster was, but it’s quite another to be at your best and play with a clear mind when a such a stark before/after moment like the trade deadline is looming. Almost every Pistons player was included in trade rumors leading up to the deadline. If Detroit had been willing to send Luke Kennard to Memphis then Mike Conley Motor City jerseys would be for sale today. However, the Pistons instead executed a few smaller deals; sending Stanley Johnson to the Spurs and Reggie Bullock to the Lakers while picking up Thon Maker, Svi Mikhailuk, a 2nd round pick, and Wayne Ellington via signing.
The axiom is that the three ways to improve are via trades, free agency, and the draft. However, the unseen fourth way to improve a franchise is with internal improvement. That doesn’t just mean having younger players gain experience and add skills, although Luke Kennard has benefited from finding his rhythm and having his role increased as he stepped into Reggie Bullock’s role. It can also come from players having peace of mind and improved concentration. Reggie Jackson has been hurt the past few years and was featured prominently in trade discussions. Andre Drummond went from franchise fixture to near salary dump towards the trade deadline as well. Both have played All-Star caliber basketball over the past 6 weeks. It’s not a coincidence that the level of play and number of wins increased starting the evening of Feburary 4th.
The low point for the Pistons was losing at home to the Clippers 5 days before the deadline. They were outscored 35-14 in the 4th to turn a 11 point lead into a 10 point loss. This was after escaping with a 4 point win over a Dallas Mavericks team that didn’t have star rookie Luka Doncic or multiple starters in the wake of their trade with the Knicks which took place hours before the game started.
They entered the game against the Nuggets, who were at the top of the Western Conference, at 7 games under .500. The game started hours after the trade deadline passed. All-Star and triple double machine Nikola Jokic was held to 16 points on 7-17 shooting with 3 rebounds and 4 assists as the Pistons beat Denver by 26 points. A home and home match against the tanking Knicks yielded double digit victories, followed by a convincing win over the still not giving up Washington Wizards. A loss to the Celtics before the All-Star break didn’t stop the momentum. Although some of the wins were against lottery teams like the Hawks and Bulls, it is still important to win the games where you have the advantage. The Pistons also racked up quality home wins against the upper echelon of the East, Indiana then Toronto, and a team struggling to stay in contention for a playoff spot in the West, the Minnesota Timberwolves. At their peak they won 10 of 12 games and were the hottest team in the NBA.
Fueling these wins was a stretch of absolutely monstrous games from Andre Drummond. The rebound totals are gaudy and taken for granted, but when combined with offensive explosions it makes the Pistons front court incredibly dangerous. At the same time that Drummond was winning player of the week honors, Luke Kennard stepped up his game, and Reggie Jackson looked a lot more like the guy who helped the Pistons make their last playoff appearance. Langston Galloway found his outside stroke and Ish Smith reminded us why he’s so crucial to the team’s success.
However, all good things do come to an end. Although the Pistons climbed their way to the 10th and 20th spot in offensive and defensive rating respectively, they still sport a negative point differential and 13-20 road record. That’s why it’s not so surprising that the recent road trip against playoff hopefuls Brooklyn and Miami have ended in blowout losses. Basketball is a game of runs both within each game and over the course of the season. Understanding that, looking at the road record, and expecting some regression to the mean after such a hot stretch means that these losses were both somewhat anticipated and easily forgiven. Even though winning one or both would have solidified the Pistons as a playoff team, the playoff picture still looks rosy for Detroit.
Right now there are 5 teams at the top of the East: Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, and Indiana. Except for Indiana, these teams made moves at the deadline in anticipation of brutal 2nd and 3rd round series as they try to make their way to the finals. There are also 5 teams trying to secure the 6th-8th seeds: Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami, Orlando, and Charlotte. Even after losing the last 2 games, the Pistons are 34-33 and currently sit in the 7th spot. There’s a 2 game cushion over the 8th seeded Heat and 4 games ahead of the Magic and Hornets. However, that cushion is necessary with 9 of the final 15 games on the road. The Pistons have had just one season over .500 over the past decade. There’s a lot to fight for during the final stretch of the season. If you’ve been watching since February, you’d believe that they’re playing the type of basketball necessary to win this fight, and will play the type of meaningful late April basketball that Pistons fans crave.