Down to the Wire

Pistons’ playoff shot could come down to season finale

The Pistons' playoff hopes could quite possibly come down to the season finale vs. Philadelphia.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Last week, I broke down what remained of the Pistons’ schedule and underscored the importance of the remaining games they would play against the eight other Eastern Conference teams, like the Pistons, with losing records scrapping for what looks like two playoff berths. At the time, the Pistons had 40 games remaining with 20 of them against those teams.

Now 19 of their remaining 37 games – slightly more than 50 percent – come against those teams. But let’s take it a step further and focus on the five teams that look like they have the most realistic shot at securing those final two playoff berths: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Indiana and Milwaukee in addition to the Pistons.

The schedules suggest the Pistons are going to have to beat out at least one of the 76ers or Bucks. Even though Milwaukee is currently one game out of the No. 8 seed – a half-game ahead of the Pistons – the Bucks clearly have the most favorable schedule of the five.

Charlotte, which goes into Tuesday night’s games clinging to the No. 8 spot with a 17-25 record, just as clearly has the least favorable schedule. The Bobcats are the only team of the five with more road than home games remaining and also the only one of the five with more games against winning than losing teams.

The Bobcats, in fact, embark on a huge six-game road trip tonight in Sacramento. Five of the six teams have losing records, so it might not be a back-breaker, but it concludes with a critical game at The Palace – one in which the Pistons will have a significant scheduling advantage. The Pistons play at New York on Sunday and have two full days off. The Bobcats will be coming to Auburn Hills off of five games in seven days out West, concluding with a Monday game at Utah.

Detroit, Philly and Indiana have roughly similar schedules, but the Pistons are heating up just as the Pacers – with whom the Pistons still have all four games remaining – are cooling off, having lost five straight and eight of 10.

Here’s a thumbnail scheduling sketch of those five teams:

DETROIT – 20 home games; 17 road games; 16 games against .500 or better teams; 21 against losing teams; 9 home games against .500 or better teams; 7 road games against .500 or better teams; 11 home games against losing teams; 10 road games against losing teams. Toughest remaining trip: March 9-12 at San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Denver.

PHILADELPHIA – 20 home games; 18 road games; 17 games against .500 or better teams; 21 games against losing teams; 10 home games against .500 or better teams; 7 road games against .500 or better teams; 10 home games against losing teams; 11 road games against losing teams. Toughest remaining trip: March 12-19 at Milwaukee, Utah, LA Clippers, Sacramento, Portland.

INDIANA – 21 home games; 20 road games; 17 games against .500 or better teams; 24 games against losing teams; 9 home games against .500 or better teams; 8 road games against .500 or better teams; 12 home games against losing teams; 12 road games against losing teams. Toughest remaining trip: March 2-5 at Oklahoma City, Dallas and Houston.

MILWAUKEE – 22 home games; 18 road games; 14 games against .500 or better teams; 26 against losing teams; 7 home games against .500 or better teams; 7 road games against losing teams; 13 home games against .500 or better teams; 13 road games against losing teams. Toughest remaining trip: April 5-8 at Orlando, Miami and Detroit.

CHARLOTTE – 18 home games; 22 road games; 21 games against .500 or better teams; 19 games against losing teams; 9 home games against .500 or better teams; 12 road games against .500 or better teams; 9 home games against losing teams; 10 road games against losing teams. Toughest remaining trip: Feb. 27-March 5 at Orlando, Denver, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland; March 13-19 at Toronto, Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

The good news for the Pistons is that they’re 1-0 against both Philly and Milwaukee this season. The bad news is they have five games remaining with those teams and four are on the road.

The Pistons hammered Milwaukee 103-89 in late November at The Palace. They’ll go to Milwaukee Feb. 5 and March 1 and host the Bucks in the season’s final week on April 8.

Philly’s only visit to The Palace for the season resulted in a Pistons overtime win – the one where Austin Daye’s triple forced overtime after Louis Williams missed two free throws. The Pistons visit Philly on Feb. 25 and then again on April 13.

Oh, by the way: That’s the season finale. There’s a long way to go between now and then, but there’s a pretty decent chance that game could decide whether the Pistons sneak into the playoff field or not.