The Pistons have had a busy month having played 9 of their last 14 games at Little Caesars Arena. It was a month with more highs than lows, and with games against both the title contenders and ping pong ball collectors. Now more than 25% of the way through the season there is a clearer picture of who is playing for what in the Eastern Conference. At 13-8, the Pistons are in the middle of the pack and fighting for home court advantage in the first round.
Part of what has helped shape the Eastern Conference landscape is the blockbuster trade that saw All-Star Jimmy Butler head east from Minnesota to Philadelphia. Adding the third all-star piece has solidified the Sixers as one of the top teams in the conference and given them a better chance of making the Finals. MVP candidates Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo have lead the Raptors and Bucks to the top of the standings. At the same time, Victor Oladipo has been hurt and the Celtics have struggled to integrate Gordon Hayward into their offense. With Oladipo coming back and Hayward shaking off some rust off the bench recently, the Celtics and Pacers have better basketball ahead of them. Kemba Walker and Nikola Vucevic have lead the Hornets and Magic to the edge of the playoff race. With the all the drama and speculation regarding the Wizards, not to mention the injury to Dwight Howard, it will be difficult for Washington to re-enter the playoff picture. What does this mean for the Pistons? Of the current Eastern Conference lottery teams, only Miami looks to have the potential to enter into the playoff picture. Detroit needs every win they can get to avoid sliding down in the standings but look poised to end a 10+ year streak of 0 wins in the playoffs.
It would have been hard to predict that the outlook would be so rosy at the beginning of November. The month got off to a slow start with a tough loss in Philadelphia to end the road trip. Blake Griffin didn’t quite match his previous performance but still put up a monster 38/13/6 line in the loss. The losing streak extended to 5 with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Heat. Andre Drummond’s pair of tip shots with under 20 seconds left, plus two missed free throws by Dwyane Wade, helped the Pistons overcome a late deficit and force overtime.
Andre – 25 points, 24 rebounds
Reggie – 25 points, 6 assists
Blake – 24 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists
Langston – 21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
Glenn – 16 points pic.twitter.com/MEumIBfmSq
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) November 6, 2018
Sadly, Drummond’s 25 point/24 rebound performance went to waste. He would score exactly 23 points as part of double double’s the next 3 games as the Pistons won both games on the road against the suddenly respectable Orlando Magic and the very much rebuilding Atlanta Hawks before losing a lackluster game at home to the Hornets on 36.5% shooting from the field.
That’s when the Pistons went to Toronto to face the league leading Raptors. If the season is a success, we will look back to this game as the point where the season turned around. Facing an 11 point deficit heading into the 4th, Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson helped turn the game into a nail biter. Each scored 8 points as part of a 17-5 run that turned an 11 point deficit into a 1 point lead. The Pistons kept on attacking and grinding even after consecutive baskets by Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard tied the game at 104. They got the stops and a beautiful basket by Reggie Bullock at the buzzer to win the game. There was no doubt this was a game that Dwane Casey wanted. More importantly, it was a game the players wanted to win for him. You could see the joy on the faces of every member of the team.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) November 15, 2018
There’s no doubt that victory galvanized the team. The Pistons won 6 of their next 7 games before being blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Granted, all 6 wins were at home, but there were plenty of positives to take from this hot stretch. First, they took care of business against the teams at the bottom of the standings. Wins over the Cavs, Suns, Knicks, and Bulls count just as much as a win over Toronto. Building on that momentum is key. Second, they weren’t all wins against likely lottery teams. Pistons won the second game of a home and home against the Houston Rockets. The first game featured James Harden putting the game away in the final minute at the free throw line. In Detroit, the script was flipped when rookie Bruce Brown was put on James Harden and the Pistons pulled away at the end of a close game. The Pistons also weathered the return of Stephen Curry, who has put on incredible performances coming off of injuries before, in a convincing win over the 2 time defending champion Golden State Warriors.
We think you might like these. The highlights from the win over the Warriors.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) December 2, 2018
More importantly, the Pistons are starting to play better and shoot better from the field. Being ranked 21st on offense while maintaining a top 10 (9th) defense isn’t elite, but it shows improvement on multiple fronts. A combination of improved health and play from the supporting cast have fueled that improvement. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are playing at an All-Star level. Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bullock’s shooting is starting to regress back to the mean after a slow start. Contributions from the under 22 crowd with Stanley Johnson and Bruce Brown have helped provide much needed depth on a bench that combines a youth movement with veteran experience. On the health front, having everyone on the court and playing together will help develop the chemistry that has been lacking.
All of that will be needed to survive this next month. There are 15 games between now and January 3rd , 2019. 9 of those games are on the road where the Pistons are only 4-4 on the season. They also must face the Bucks, Sixers, and Hornets twice. There is also a home game against Boston and more matchups against good Western Conference teams like the Grizzlies, Timberwolves, and Pelicans. Only one game of the 15 is against a lottery team. A .500 or better record in these games would help solidify the Pistons in the standings. Struggle and it becomes a fight for a playoff spot.
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