Swing Game

Pistons help their cause if they can knock off Philly

Greg Monroe calls Saturday's game against the Sixers a 'must-win'.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
It wasn’t exactly a rookie mistake Greg Monroe committed when he said “we’re going into (Saturday’s game) with the notion that it’s a must-win.” It just isn’t something you’ll normally catch a coach or a veteran saying unless it was the last game of the season with a playoff berth at stake.

But Monroe might not have been too far off. Sure, the Pistons are only three games out of the No. 8 playoff seed in the East with 47 games still on the schedule, but the circumstances of Saturday’s game are a little different.

For one, the identity of the team currently holding the No. 8 seed and Saturday’s opponent match: Philadelphia. For another, Philly, after opening the season 3-13, is 11-8 since, and the Pistons need to launch a similar turnaround at some point in the near future or they’ll be facing a long string of must-win games. Launching that turnaround at the expense of one of the handful of teams with a shot at the final two playoff spots in the East would mean more than just the one game in the standings the Pistons would stand to gain.

“This is an important game,” John Kuester began, quickly tacking back to, “but every game is important for us right now. We’ve got to play with the type of tenacity and concentration we did against Boston (in the Pistons’ last win on Dec. 29) and we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

The 76ers are a lot like the Pistons in many respects. First-year coach Doug Collins has been shuffling the lineup around all season with players going from starting to virtually out of the rotation (Jason Kapono) and vice versa (Jodie Meeks). Ten different 76ers have started at least a game. Nine players average between 6.8 and 14.9 points per game, Andre Igoudala – who has missed 10 games with an Achilles tendon strain and isn’t expected in the lineup – among them.

On the night the Pistons were playing what was likely their best game of the season in that win over Boston, Philadelphia was winning 123-110 at Phoenix. Two nights later, with a chance to match Philly’s win on the same floor, the Pistons – who had scored 104 points against one of the NBA’s best defenses in beating the Celtics – managed just 75 points against Phoenix and lost in a rout.

It’s that type of inconsistency that’s plagued the Pistons, who believe they have every bit as much capability to execute a sustained stretch of plus-.500 basketball as Philadelphia has managed.

“Our last complete game was the Boston game,” Charlie Villanueva said. “From start to finish, we were playing terrific basketball on both ends of the floor. On the West Coast trip, we got away from that a little bit. But the beauty of the NBA is you’ve got one tomorrow and, hopefully, we can get back on track.

“Tomorrow night is a test for us, it’s a challenge. It’s another team in the same position as we are. … Philly is a very dangerous team. If you don’t come ready to play, they’re going to beat you, flat out. I think every guy knows that and we’re going to come ready to play tomorrow.”

One other area where the 76ers and Pistons are alike: Both teams are somewhat undersized. Spencer Hawes, less than a physical presence, is Philly’s starting center, with Elton Brand logging plenty of minutes there. Yet Philly ranks in the upper half of NBA teams in defense and rebounding while the Pistons are 28th in field-goal percentage defense and 30th in rebounding.

“They’re very athletic,” Kuester said. “They use their athleticism well. That’s one of the things that is impressive about them. Watching tape on them, they’re really playing hard. Give them credit. They’ve got some good young players. They are giving a tremendous amount of energy and good things happen when you play hard.”

The Pistons vow they will Saturday, too. At least that much is a must.