The teams that currently occupy the last two spots in the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee and Boston, are both hovering barely above .500. If those two spots are within play, then there are four teams currently on the other side of the playoff divide that are positioned to overtake the Bucks and Celtics.
The Pistons are one of them, currently 14-25 and six games behind Boston in the loss column for the final playoff berth. Philadelphia is 17-23 and fading, Orlando’s 14-25 record matches the Pistons and Toronto is a tick behind at 14-26 and on a four-game losing streak after a rash of frontcourt injuries.
It stands to reason that games among those six teams – Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando, Toronto and the Pistons – will be especially critical in shaping the East’s playoff field.
That makes the next 10 days perhaps the defining stretch of the season’s second half for the Pistons. They’ll play six games – four of them coming against those teams that will vie for the final two spots. They host Boston on Sunday, the Celtics coming off two straight home losses – a shocker to New Orleans and Friday’s overtime loss to Chicago – and then welcome Orlando on Tuesday.
They hit the road for a three-game trip right after Tuesday’s game, starting in Chicago and finishing up in Miami. In between is a Friday game at Orlando.
The Pistons would love to register some payback against the Magic after losing twice to them in November, at The Palace when they squandered a double-digit second-half lead and the following week at Orlando when the Magic came from three points behind at halftime by opening the third quarter on a 21-0 run as the Pistons missed 15 straight shots.
The Pistons had won seven of nine games before losing at home to Utah last Saturday and then in London – a home game for them – against the Knicks. In that stretch came perhaps their most impressive win of the season, the 103-87 victory at Milwaukee on Jan. 11 – not just a road win, but a win against one of the teams they’ll have to overtake, in all likelihood, to nail down a playoff berth.
After playing four of their next six games against the teams vying for one of the final two playoff spots, the Pistons will have just five such games for the rest of the season. How they fare in the next six might determine whether those games will really matter.