Playoff schedule gives Pistons maximum time to help Griffin recover from knee injury

Blake Griffin missed the playoff-clinching win over New York with left knee pain, but their chances to get him back in time to help against Milwaukee in the first round was aided by the playoff schedule.
Issac Baldizon (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

NEW YORK – A pessimist would say the Pistons are 2-5 in games without Blake Griffin this season. An optimist might respond by saying they take a one-game winning streak in games without their All-NBA candidate into the playoffs.

And a realist would tell you that it was going to be difficult for the Pistons to challenge the 60-win Milwaukee Bucks with a healthy Griffin and that without him it goes from difficult to inconceivable.

The Pistons’ locker room will be devoid of pessimists and likely shy on realists over the next 72-plus hours before Game 1 tips off at Milwaukee. From whatever perspective, the postseason schedule the NBA set gives the Pistons the best possible chance to get Griffin’s left knee in shape to contribute on some level.

The series won’t open until Sunday night, the seventh of eight NBA playoff series to tip off. And the Pistons will get a two-day break after each of the first two games. Game 2 will be on Wednesday in Milwaukee with the series switching to Little Caesars Arena for games April 20 and 22.

The Pistons left Madison Square Garden after crushing the Knicks to clinch a playoff berth talking about pride in their accomplishment but craving more, no matter Griffin’s availability.

“It’s exciting to make it into the playoffs, but we’re not satisfied,” Langston Galloway said. “We know we’ve got a lot of work to do. We got these last two wins and we’ve got to build on it.”

The Pistons won’t rule out Griffin, of course, but they have to prepare as if he’ll be unavailable – or at least limited in his ability to shoulder the array of roles he filled in putting together arguably the best season of a career that’s seen him play in six All-Star games. He set career highs in scoring (24.5 points per game) and 3-point shooting (.362, coming up two short of matching Allan Houston’s franchise record of 191 made triples in a season) while leading the Pistons in assists (5.4 per game).

“Hopefully, he’s all good,” Luke Kennard said after the win in New York. “Get some rest the next couple of days, but whoever is with us we’re going to go out and compete. We have a good team. I really believe that. Hopefully, we can put together some really good basketball in the next week or so.”

“Having Blake back will be great,” Andre Drummond said, “but I know if he doesn’t come back, we have the guys to still make noise.”

The Bucks, by virtually every indicator, were the NBA’s best team this season. Their 60 wins won the East by two games over Toronto and ensure the Bucks home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Defending champion Golden State finished with 57 wins. Milwaukee had the NBA’s No. 1 defense and No. 3 offense and finished No. 1 in net rating (8.6) by a healthy margin over Golden State.

Griffin would be Dwane Casey’s preferred option to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, likely to finish either first or second along with James Harden in MVP balloting. Without him, that role probably falls first to Thon Maker. But it will be a collaborative endeavor of the highest order made more difficult by Milwaukee’s prolific 3-point shooting that creates space for Antetokounmpo’s devastatingly effective swoops to the basket.

The Bucks attempted more 3-point shots, 38.2 per game, than every team but Houston, making them at almost exactly the league average, 35.3 percent. They threaten the 3-point line at all five positions with center Brook Lopez taking 6.3 triples a game and making them at a .365 clip.

So, yeah, it would help to be fully armed. Reggie Jackson hopes for the best.

“I expect him to be there until told otherwise,” he said. “I think he probably just needed some time off today. Happy we came out and got a win without him, but, yeah, I expect him back.”

“Obviously, Blake is really important to our team,” Kennard said. “He’s our go-to guy, our leader. Having him out there would be a plus but next man up. We’ve got guys that can come in and compete. They’ll be ready to go.”

“We’ll see,” Casey said. “There’s always uncertainty, but these few days off will help. We’ll just see where he is at that time.”

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