29 Important Games

4 remaining games with Indiana especially critical for Pistons
John Kuester doesn’t allow questioners much latitude when they suggest any particular game qualifies as important. “Every game is important,” is his standard comeback. He’s never been more right. Sitting at five games in the loss column out of the final playoff spot, each of the Pistons’ 29 remaining games is important.

They’ve reached the point where they can’t afford to lose many, if any, winnable games. Beyond that, they’ll probably need to steal a win or two from the column heading of improbable wins.

So every game is important – some are just more important than others.

Among the latter category are each of the nine games remaining against the four other contenders for the last two remaining playoff positions.

Over the last few weeks, Philadelphia and Indiana have positioned themselves as the favorites for those spots, while Charlotte gave itself a stay of execution by going 4-2 on a six-game road trip – ending with a win at The Palace that the Pistons will put high on the list of games to rue should they fall short in their playoff bid. The Pistons and Milwaukee, meanwhile, have treaded water, playing just well enough to stay alive but failing to capitalize on opportunities to enhance their standing.

Here are a few key points in considering how the final nine weeks of the NBA regular season will play out for the Pistons:

  • The Pistons have all four games still remaining with division rival Indiana, which has won five of six since firing Jim O’Brien and replacing him with little-known assistant Frank Vogel. The Pacers swept the Pistons last year; the Pistons might have to return the favor in order to have a real shot at nosing out Indiana for a playoff spot. A split greatly favors Indiana.

  • The Pistons have nine games remaining with the four teams immediately ahead of them in the 7-10 spots in the East. Only three are at The Palace. The first of those nine games comes against Indiana next Wednesday, the All-Star break getaway game. If there was ever a must-win game in February, that one counts.

  • The Pistons do have a more favorable schedule than every team but Milwaukee, and even that’s close. Milwaukee has more remaining home games, but the Bucks play more road games against winning teams (eight) than the Pistons still face (five).

  • The Pistons currently hold the tiebreaker edge over Milwaukee (2-0) and Philadelphia (1-0). Charlotte (2-1) holds the tiebreaker edge over the Pistons – yet another reason the Feb. 2 loss to the Bobcats stings. The Pistons still play the Bucks home and away; both remaining games with the 76ers are at Philadelphia; and the lone remaining meeting with the Bobcats comes on the road.

  • The Bobcats have by far the toughest remaining schedule. Charlotte has a whopping 11 road games remaining against winning teams. They must play at Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, the LA Lakers, Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Boston, Miami and Orlando (twice).

  • Bottom line: Philadelphia has a better chance than Indiana to hang on to one of the last two playoff spots and Milwaukee has a better chance than Charlotte does of vaulting over one of the teams ahead of them. The Pistons have to come from farther back but have a schedule that makes it possible.

    But that means they have to win all of the games they should and some they won’t be favored to win. At 20-33, a 16-13 finish would get the Pistons to 36-46. Would that be enough? Not according to ESPN.com’s projections, which actually have Philly finishing with 42 wins and leapfrogging the Knicks, projected as the No. 7 seed with 41 wins, and Indiana nabbing the No. 8 spot with 39 wins.

    But the Pistons can have a lot to say about that. Among their 29 remaining games, they might all be important, but the four left with the Pacers are especially critical.

    Here’s a more detailed look at the remaining schedules of the five teams currently in the 7-11 spots in the Eastern Conference:

    PHILADELPHIA – 30 remaining games (16 home/14 road); 13 games against winning teams, (7 home/6 road); 17 games against losing teams, (9 home/8 road).

    INDIANA – 32 remaining games (16 home/16 road); 15 games against winning teams, (7 home/8 road; 17 games against losing teams, (9 home/8 road).

    CHARLOTTE – 30 remaining games (15 home/15 road); 17 games against winning teams, (6 home, 11 road); 13 games against losing teams, (9 home/4 road).

    MILWAUKEE – 31 remaining games (18 home/13 road); 14 games against winning teams (6 home/8 road); 17 games against losing teams (12 home/5 road).

    DETROIT – 29 remaining games (16 home/13 road); 13 games against winning teams (8 home/5 road); 16 games against losing teams (8 home/8 road).