Pistons (Finally) Clinch Playoff Berth
As the season progressed the joke became less funny and more poignant -- until eventually it revealed itself to be the truth. On Friday, with only three games to spare, the Pistons finally secured their invitation to the postseason with a win over the New Jersey Nets.
Four Pistons starters scored in double-digits, but it was Will Bynum, reprising the role of Vinnie Johnson for the last month, who led the team with 20 points. Rip Hamilton (10 points, nine assists) and Rodney Stuckey (10 points, eight assists) combined for 17 dimes, while the Nets got almost no scoring out of their ballyhooed backcourt of Vince Carter (six points) and Devin Harris (one point). Harris left in the third quarter with a sore left shoulder but said after the game it wasn't serious.
The Pistons will make their eighth consecutive trip to the playoffs, and even though some people (including myself) might have predicted the streak would come to an end this season, Michael Curry said after Friday's game that he never had a doubt. "We've been through some struggles and rough times this year," he said, "but if we can learn and take things from that, hopefully it'll help us in the playoffs. We were always confident we'd be a team in the playoffs, we're just in a different seed this year and we've got to start off on the road."
Just because the Pistons now know there's life after 82, they can't pause to catch their breath just yet. So far all they've locked up is finishing no worse than eighth in the East, but if the cards fall their way, they can still climb a few rungs in the standings.
The Pistons are at Indiana on Saturday, home against the Bulls on Monday and in Miami for their season finale on Wednesday. The No. 5 seed is mathematically still a possibility, albeit an unlikely one. But if the Pistons win out, the No. 6 seed (and the preferable first-round matchup with Orlando, Detroit's whipping boy the last few years) is potentially feasible.
The 76ers, currently seeded sixth, are losers of four straight and still have to play both Boston and Cleveland for two of their last three games of the season. It's possible the Celtics or Cavs might concede an upset by pulling their starters in anticipation of the playoffs, but that's hardly a guarantee considering both of those contenders would likely prefer the Pistons to face the Magic in the first round than dealing with the Pistons themselves.
Regardless of what happens, Monday's game against the seventh-seeded Bulls should be a battle. Like Detroit, the Bulls have won three in a row, and they've also taken two of three from the Pistons. That said, they're also one of the worst teams in the league on the road, having won just 12 of 40 games away from the United Center all season.
Right now, though, Curry is still looking at the game in front of him. "We can't think too much about [playoff seeding] right now because we really got to get this game in Indy tomorrow -- and Indy is a tough matchup for us, a tough matchup for everybody, especially in that they score a ton of points – and take care of that so we can finish at home with a tough Chicago team and try to finish our last regular season home game on a high note.
"So we're glad that we're in; hopefully we can get the best position possible. But more importantly, just keep playing better basketball and let some of our energy guys get their legs up under them."