Golden Opportunity

Home-heavy February schedule gives young Pistons a shot

Ben Gordon still displays his Huskies pride.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
February didn’t get off to the start the Pistons wanted with the loss to Charlotte, but the stretch of games ahead still represents a golden opportunity for this team. We know there are great veterans on the Pistons, but we also know there are some young people who can learn from playing under some pressure. And that’s what this is – it’s pressure to get back into the playoff hunt.

The loss to Charlotte probably was like a shot in the mouth to this team. The Bobcats are the No. 8 team in the East right now, so not only do the Pistons have to jump a couple of other teams, they have to pass Charlotte to make it into the playoffs. Maybe it was kind of a wakeup call. Obviously, the Bobcats were focused and the young Pistons and their veterans have to know what they’re up against here.

If they can take advantage of their home-heavy February schedule, they’ll put pressure on the other guys. That’s what it’s all about. You feel pressure, sure, but you can turn up the heat on the other teams, too.

It’s an intriguing mix of games coming up and a great chance for fans to see some really meaningful basketball games. Just in the days leading up to the All-Star break, the Pistons have six more home games at The Palace. Clearly, there are some winnable games on the schedule – no disrespect to New Jersey on Friday and some of the others – but there are also some difficult games coming up. San Antonio next Tuesday has the best record in the league and then Miami with all three of its superstars now healthy – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, of course – comes to The Palace next Friday, followed by two more playoff teams, Portland and Atlanta.

So there are teams you feel like you should have a shot to beat, whether they’re home against the Nets or on the road against Milwaukee and Cleveland, and teams you can measure up against among the NBA elite. All those games are part of a learning process for a professional athlete and a professional team.

If you can learn how you measure up against the best in the league and you can learn what it’s like to play against the teams you’re fighting for a playoff spot, it makes everything bigger and more meaningful – every shot, every possessions, every defensive stand. You remember more about games that are ultra-meaningful and more about games that are against the best in the league. In both cases, I think it’s an opportunity to take giant steps forward for a young team.

I know there’s a school of thought among some fans that it’s better to be in the lottery than to try to make the playoffs or get there and lose in the first round. But I don’t buy that. I never have. First of all, you owe it to the players, the coaches and the fans. There are eight spots in both the East and the West and, yes, I’ll agree six of them are probably sewn up in the East.

That means five or six teams are fighting for those last two spots and if you have a chance, you need to go for it. No getting around it. The fans that have come out and supported this team as it restructures itself deserve to have this squad make a meaningful push toward a playoff spot.

It would be a great reward for everybody, frankly, including all the people who work so tirelessly in the front office and on the business side at The Palace who make the games themselves there so interesting with fireworks and music and everything else. It helps to have meaningful games and games the Pistons win so they can perhaps be a team that plays in the postseason.

For the young players so important to the Pistons’ future, there’s a lot of value to making a playoff push and perhaps playing in a playoff series. That includes Greg Monroe, having such a great year and chosen to play in the Rookie-Soph Challenge.

And I’ll just say this: Jonas Jerebko was so good last year and now he’s had most of his second year taken away from him. I’m sure Jonas is on the sidelines chomping at the bit. He can’t wait to get back out there. This season would have been a lot different had Jonas Jerebko been a part of it. I’m sure he’s thinking if the Pistons can stay in the hunt until he gets back, it will be all the more meaningful for him. He deserves to play in games that matter. For Jonas and all the rest of the Pistons, they need to stay in the hunt as long as they can and give themselves the best shot at making the playoffs.