Another big division game coming, but then Pistons will be done with Pacers – and they’ve yet to see Chicago

Tobias Harris scored 24 points and tied a season-high with 5 assists as the Pistons beat the Knicks on Friday.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images

AUBURN HILLS – When the horn blares to end the next Pistons game, they’ll wave goodbye to Indiana for the season. They’ve yet to play another division rival, Chicago.

“It’s crazy. It really is,” Stan Van Gundy said after wrapping up Christmas eve’s morning practice and giving his team the holiday off before Tuesday’s 2017-18 finale with the Pacers. “If you look at the playoff teams in the East, we don’t go to Boston any more, we don’t go to Washington any more, we don’t go to Milwaukee any more, we don’t go to Indiana any more. And we’re only 32 games into the season. It’s crazy.”

Take a look at the East standings and circle those bottom five teams: Brooklyn, Charlotte, Orlando, Chicago and Atlanta. Thirty percent of the Pistons remaining schedule – 15 of 50 games – will come against those teams.

In addition to four games left with the Bulls, the Pistons still have three games with Orlando – which lost center Nic Vucevic for several weeks to a broken hand suffered Saturday – four with Brooklyn and two apiece with Charlotte and Atlanta.

And if you think that will make Van Gundy’s Christmas dinner settle any better, guess again.

“Charlotte, Orlando, Brooklyn – all of ’em have a chance,” Van Gundy said. “If you look at those teams, they all have quality wins and are good teams. I think everybody’s viable at this point. Fifty games to go is a long time. I think for us, it’s just we worry about us and try to get wins and that’s it.”

Van Gundy ticked off the improbable wins the Pistons have notched this season – topped by road wins over Golden State and Boston – and, on the flip side, the losses to teams the Lakers and Dallas. But the Pistons are hardly alone. Around losses to Atlanta and New Orleans last week, Miami won at Boston. Washington lost by 35 at Brooklyn on Friday before beating Orlando by 27 on Saturday.

“We went on that first West Coast trip, you would’ve said the Lakers would’ve been our best chance to win,” Van Gundy said. “The other two (Clippers, Warriors) would’ve been low-probability wins. We win the other two and lose by 20 to the Lakers. That’s just the way it’s been. It’s not that way for maybe every team, but with us it hasn’t been that. I don’t know if it’s our mindset or what, but it hasn’t mattered.”

The Pistons have gone 2-1 against Indiana, winning there Dec. 15 in the first game they played without Avery Bradley. They’re 3-1 since he’s been sidelined with a hip/pelvic injury and Van Gundy said again Sunday that the Pistons still hope to get him back after Jan. 1, which means he’d miss the next three games and possibly return for a Jan. 3 game at Miami.

In his absence, the Pistons have gotten good play out of Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver. Over his six games since moving into the starting lineup for Stanley Johnson – and sliding to shooting guard the past two games with Tolliver starting up front – Bullock has hit 11 of 20 from the 3-point arc and committed just two turnovers. Tolliver is 18 of 35 from the arc over that span. Both players excel at sticking to what they do best without straying into other areas.

“That’s a big part of being a good player in this league,” Van Gundy said. “Knowing who you are, playing to your strengths. Obviously, talent’s a big thing, but all these guys have talent. Really knowing what your strengths are and playing to them is a good thing.”

Bullock left his mark on Friday’s win over New York especially at the defensive end, making big plays on each of the final three possessions – diving for a loose ball, blocking a shot, deflecting a pass that forced a desperation attempt at the buzzer – as the Pistons finished the game on a 7-0 run to overcome a four-point deficit.

“What he did on that last one – last two – he just stayed in the play and he had pressure, he used his length. Big plays down the stretch. Really, down the stretch it was Reggie’s (Jackson) offense and Reggie Bullock’s defense.”

Jackson and Tobias Harris both played closer to form than they had in a rough December that started at the tail end of the Pistons seven-game losing streak. Jackson finished with just 10 points – seven in the final three minutes – in a tough shooting night, but Van Gundy liked his aggressiveness and decision making. He tied a season high with eight assists and could have had a few more if easy shots had fallen. Harris also tied a season high with five assists to go with 24 points.

“I just think they played better,” Van Gundy said. “Other than his shooting, I thought Reggie played really well – made really good plays. Tobias, he got it going, but he was moving the ball. He was just playing, taking what was there. I thought both of them were taking the plays that were there. I thought they were both taking good shots, passing when people were open. If they play like that, they’ll both play really well.”