There are now 15 games left in the regular season for the Detroit Pistons, which means it’s time to start turning their focus to the postseason. Many hoped that the team would be able to build off a successful season last year and finish in the top four in the East. This has not happened, but all is not lost.
The bottom half of the East will be highly contested, with as many as five teams fighting for the sixth, seventh, and eighth spots. Detroit figures to be smack-dab in the middle of this fight, currently occupying seventh.
Luckily for them, the Pistons’ schedule the rest of the way looks relatively easy, with only six of their remaining games coming against teams with records above .500. Only two of these games are on the road.
Even so, the Atlanta Hawks are still most likely out of reach in 5th being four games ahead, so the only opportunity to move up is with the sixth seed, which is presently held by the Indiana Pacers. Indiana sits just a game ahead of Detroit, certainly not an insurmountable total by any means. However, the Pistons have lost all four of their games against the Pacers this year, giving Indiana the tiebreaker between the two teams.
Below them are the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, and Miami Heat, at .5, 1, and 1 games back respectively. Each of these four teams have a realistic shot at the seventh or eighth seeds, so the Pistons will be focused more on fending off challengers to their position than moving up the ladder.
Detroit will have one last game against the Bucks to even up the season series, which currently sits 2-1 in favor of Milwaukee. Should they win March 31st, the tiebreaker between the two teams would come down to divisional record, which the Bucks are also likely to claim.
Similarly, the Pistons can clinch their tiebreaker against the Bulls with a win March 22, although Chicago will still likely have the divisional record advantage should they lose. Detroit faces the exact same situation with Miami as they do the Bulls, with an opportunity to clinch the tiebreaker with a win.
It looks like a probable outcome now, but simply making the playoffs is just one thing. The goal is obviously to go farther in the postseason than last year’s team that was swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The top three seats in the Eastern Conference are very much up for grabs between the Cavs, Boston Celtic, and Washington Wizards, so Detroit could face any of them at the seventh or eighth seeds.
Both the Celtics and Cavs seem to be trending down, winners of four and five in their last 10 respectively, but it has to be assumed both teams could flip the proverbial switch when the time comes.
The Pistons’ last game against the Cavs was, in a word, horrendous, with Cleveland at times taking a near 40-point lead. Given their lack of success in last season’s first round, this is a matchup they want to avoid especially considering the lack of roster turnover both teams have experienced.
The Celtics present a troublesome matchup as well. Point guard Isaiah Thomas has the quickness to get by either of Reggie Jackson or Ish Smith almost at will, and Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk, and Amit Johnson have the ability to take Andre Drummond out of his comfort zone around the hoop. The Pistons are 1-3 against the Celtics this year.
The Wizards have been surging over the second half of the season and beyond, going 34-13 over their last 47 games. Like Detroit, Washington has talent across their starting lineup, running most of their offense through superstar point guard John Wall.
None of these teams will be a “good” matchup for the Pistons, but that’s the situation you find yourself in towards the bottom of the standings. Nothing is set though, as Detroit will still have to fend off multiple challengers before they can safely reach the postseason.