Will the Pistons Fight or Fold?

Image: Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

The end of the regular season is drawing near. Teams are vying for the remaining available playoff spots in each conference. The Pistons are one of those teams. Coming into pivotal matchups against the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat, Detroit was 13-3 in their last 16 games. Their offense was humming, as they had the best offensive rating in the league during the hot stretch.

Then the offense froze.

They scraped 75 points together against the Nets. Then 74 against the Heat. They lost both games in blowout fashion.

Now, at 34-33, the Pistons are reeling. They failed to get up for two huge games that should have been circled on their schedules. It’s not even as if Detroit put up a fight in either of these games. They didn’t. They were blown out, after both teams flustered, out-hustled, and worked them.

In both matchups, Detroit had extra to play for. They had a chance to win the head-to-head season series against the Nets and the Heat. They also had the opportunity to hold off the Nets from reclaiming the sixth seed, which Detroit had promptly taken from them during their run. Instead, the Nets slid up the sixth seed while Detroit dropped back to seventh. Then, the Heat tied the season series at two apiece and inched a game closer to the Pistons in the standings.

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The same issues hampered the Pistons in each game.

Against a zone defense, Detroit looked lost. They compiled turnover after turnover, meshed in between countless missed shots when facing a zone. They turned the ball over a combined 29 times and the fact that they scored 75 and 74 points respectively in the two games indicates how effective the defense was against them.

Their shooting was horrendous. When they managed to get a shot off, it wasn’t a clean look. They shot 27.8 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from the 3-point line against Brooklyn. Versus Miami, they shot 35 percent from the field and a somehow even worse 3-point percentage, at 21.6 percent. The Pistons had the best 3-point shooting percentage in the league since February 1st. In two huge games, the shooting prowess disappeared.

Blake Griffin looks beat. He showed a spurt of energy against the Bulls after going through a stretch where he looked tired and in need of some rest. That form of Griffin returned against the Nets and Heat. In the two games, he averaged 11.5 points on 26.3 percent shooting from the field. He turned the ball over himself seven times. On both sides of the court, he was seen standing stationary far too many times. He’s averaging the most minutes of his career since 2014 and has already played in more games in a season since 2015. His workload is tiring, noticeable by posting the highest usage of his career.

In playoff level games, the Pistons folded. And in the process, they may have lost their starting point guard, whose resurgence has led to the Pistons turning their season around.

Reggie Jackson stepped on Zaza Pachulia’s foot early in the fourth quarter against Miami, and left the game early, hobbling to the locker room with a limp.

After the game he seemed hopeful:

But Jackson has missed significant time with injuries in the past two seasons, and after not being healthy in the offseason, took time to get into game shape this year. He is a key cog to Detroit’s offense and is necessary for the Pistons to be a playoff team.

So where do the Pistons go?

Three of their next four games should be wins. They play a banged-up Los Angeles Lakers team, then have games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns after a matchup with the Toronto Raptors.

Those games become just as important as the Brooklyn and Miami games were. But the Pistons can’t play the same way. They have to play as they belong. They have to play like they are one of the hottest teams in the league. They have to play as their playoff lives depend on it. Finishing as the 8th seed is trivial, as a matchup against the 1st place Milwaukee Bucks is a death sentence.

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If the Pistons continue to slide, then their hot month and a half were meaningless and this team isn’t as good or as fun as we thought they could be. It means they’ll likely be staring at significant roster changes in the offseason and once again losing the trust of a fanbase that has just started to let them back into their lives.

But if they rebound and keep fighting then there is hope. They two games up on Miami in the standings and the Nets have the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to Tankathon.

It’s only two losses, but these two losses were significant. In a sink or swim type of position, it’s time to see how serious and how legitimate these Pistons are.

Featured Image: Julie Jacobson/Associated Press