Detroit Could Be This Year’s Spoiler
The Detroit Pistons (27-27) haven’t reached the playoffs since the 2008-09 campaign, a span of six seasons in which the team has employed five different head coaches. However, as we begin the stretch run of the 2015-16 season, Detroit not only finds themselves alive in the playoff hunt but they have a strong possibility of snagging one of the remaining spots in the Eastern Conference.
As it stands currently, the Pistons are only a half-game behind the struggling Chicago Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Pistons limped into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak, but were active during the league’s trade season and vastly improved their roster in the process.
Detroit made two separate moves in recent days. Here’s how the additions and subtractions look as a whole.
Pistons Received: Tobias Harris, Donatas Motiejunas, Marcus Thornton
Pistons Dealt: Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Jennings, Joel Anthony and a 2016 protected first-round pick
The Pistons pulled off a sweet deal with the Orlando Magic to acquire the 23-year-old Harris without giving up a first-round pick in the process. Harris is a proven double-digit scorer with decent range on his jumper. Sure, there are still some holes in his game, but Harris has plenty of time to grow and mature. Plus he’s locked in through the 2018-19 season, so in essence the Pistons made their free agency play early while leveraging the trade market.
Thornton adds much needed depth behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard. When Caldwell-Pope missed time leading up to the All-Star break due to injury, Detroit was forced to play rookie Stanley Johnson out of position there in a pinch.
Motiejunas is a calculated risk due to his ongoing back issues, but he has proven to be productive when healthy.
The Pistons didn’t push themselves into contention with these deals, but their aggressive moves do strengthen their roster for a playoff push. If they manage to crack the top eight in the East, perhaps they could even make some noise in the postseason.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers seemingly towering above all other teams in the conference, the other squads at the top could be ripe for a first-round upset – and that’s where the upstart Pistons could take advantage.
The Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks occupy the second, third and fourth seeds, respectively. All of these squads have question marks.
The Raptors have entered the playoffs the past two seasons as favorites in their first-round matchups, but the team was sent home packing unceremoniously in both instances. While Toronto is on pace for a 50-win campaign, there’s still the undeniable truth that their core group has yet to deliver as advertised on the big stage.
The Celtics are another team putting together a very solid regular season campaign, but also facing questions about how they’ll hold up in the role of favorites. Boston crashed the playoffs last season as an up-and-coming squad before becoming fodder for a Cavaliers team that ultimately reached the NBA Finals. The Celtics made their playoff return ahead of schedule and the experience gained was surely valuable; however, the team’s core is relatively young and they’re no sure bet to advance into the second round.
The Hawks won 60 games last season, but have fallen back to Earth during the 2015-16 campaign. The core group is still intact and those players have proven they can win at a high level. But the team has been wildly inconsistent and susceptible to inferior teams recently, which could spell trouble.
Detroit lost both games versus Toronto this season by a combined 18 points. The teams will face off one more time (February 28).
The Pistons split (2-2) the season series against Boston, with each team recording a victory on the other’s home court in competitive contests. No games decided were by more than seven points.
Detroit kicked off the season with a double-digit victory over the Hawks in Atlanta. But the Hawks got revenge two months later, pulling out a seven-point victory at home. The last two games of the season series will be in Detroit (March 16 and March 26) with plenty of playoff implications likely at stake.
The Pistons have positioned themselves to be a potential spoiler down the stretch, assuming Harris, Thornton and Motiejunas fit in with their current pieces and the group develops chemistry. Will they be able to secure a playoff berth and pull off a first round exit? That’s the big question for this team.
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