One week remains in the Detroit Pistons’ regular season. Standing at 22-56, Detroit is in a race to the bottom of the NBA standings with four games to go.
Detroit has already shut down Jerami Grant for the remainder of the season due to a calf injury. In their 110-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, veteran point guard Cory Joseph was sidelined with a back strain. Center Kelly Olynyk missed the game as well as Detroit decided to rest him.
It will not be a surprise if Detroit continues to keep their veteran players sidelined for the remainder of the season. The Pistons currently hold the third-worst record in the NBA, edging out the Thunder by half a game. They are tied with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets for the best odds to land the number one pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. Detroit’s placement in the standings could be in jeopardy in this final week. The team is currently on a two-game winning streak as their competition continues to lose.
The Pistons cannot do much else to tank besides sitting their veterans. Cade Cunningham is not going to sit out the rest of the season since he is battling for the Rookie of the Year award. Saddiq Bey has played in all 78 of Detroit’s games this season, he will want to keep his iron man streak going. The rest of their young core needs the reps for development.
Detroit opens up this final stretch of the season on the road against the Indiana Pacers. They have two home games, one against the Dallas Mavericks and one against Milwaukee Bucks. Then they finish the season off against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Indiana Pacers vs Detroit Pistons
Of Detroit’s final four games, this is the most winnable. After years of mediocrity as a low-seeded playoff team, the Pacers fell to the fifth-worst record in the NBA, a trade for Tyrese Haliburton before the trade deadline did little to turn the tide.
The Pistons are 2-1 against Indiana this season. Saddiq Bey has been dominant in those matchups averaging 22.7 points and shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc. Most recently, the second-year wing scored 25 points, sinking six of his eight three-pointers in Detroit’s 111-106 victory in March. Bey will need a repeat performance if Detroit is to have any chance against the Pacers.
On top of Grant missing the remainder of the season, Detroit is expected to miss other key contributors in their matchup in Indiana. On Detroit’s injury report, Joseph is listed as questionable. Marvin Bagley III is out for the second straight game, and Hamidou Diallo will miss his 13th straight game. Cunningham appeared on the injury report as well. He is questionable.
With Detroit’s injuries piling up, this game should end with a Pacers victory. Unlike the Thunder, Indiana is not tanking by sitting every player who can perform at an above-average level. Haliburton is sure to give Detroit’s defense trouble. He is averaging 17.2 points and 9.5 assists in 22 games with the team.
A loss gives Detroit breathing room from Indiana and keeps them ahead of the Thunder in the race to the bottom. A win places the Pacers just two games behind and gives the Thunder a chance to jump them in the lottery odds.
Detroit Pistons vs Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks crushed the Pistons in their first game this season. A 116-86 loss where Luka Dončić scored 33 points including 10 made free throws. The Pistons were without Cunningham in the previous matchup, but they were clearly outmatched in Dallas.
There is plenty of uncertainty with injuries heading into this game. If Detroit continues to sit their veterans and if Cunningham and Bagley are still on the injury report, the team will have little chance against Dallas.
The Mavericks are still playing for playoff seeding. The team cannot afford to take a game off. They currently hold the fourth seed in the Western Conference, two games ahead of the Utah Jazz and one game behind the Golden State Warriors.
With the Warriors stumbling into the playoffs, Dallas is looking to capitalize on a schedule where three of their last four opponents are below .500. The Mavericks also need to separate themselves from the Jazz. If the Warriors level out and hold onto the third seed, Dallas needs to stay ahead of Utah to keep home-field advantage in the first round.
Detroit Pistons vs Milwaukee Bucks
Jan 3, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) drives past Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) in the third quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The Pistons’ snapped their six-game losing streak to the Bucks back in early January. The 115-106 victory is best remembered for Bey’s 34-point scoring night. Milwaukee cannot afford to make it back-to-back losses to the Pistons. The Bucks need to win out if they are to have any chance at prying the one-seed in the Eastern Conference from the Miami Heat. The Heat hold a 1.5 game lead over the Bucks in the Eastern Conference standings. The Boston Celtics are right behind Milwaukee by just half a game.
Things could get interesting if the Bucks want to avoid a potential matchup with the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. Brooklyn is currently in the final spot in the play-in tournament. If they hold that position they cannot climb any higher than the eighth seed after the play-in games.
If history tells us anything, it is that Milwaukee will not play to avoid the Nets. The team had a similar discussion about whether to avoid a matchup with the Heat in round one last season. The team voted against avoiding Miami and they will not avoid Brooklyn either. In their matchup with Detroit, the Bucks will give everything they have got.
Philadelphia 76ers vs Detroit Pistons
Detroit closes out the season against the 76ers. A 102-94 victory over Philadelphia to open up April gave the Pistons their highest win total in a season in over two years. They outplayed a 76ers team who had much more to play for. The disappearance of James Harden, and a 27-point outing from Cunningham propelled Detroit to victory.
This final game could come down to how finalized the Eastern Conference playoff seeding is. The 76ers sit at the fourth seed, two games ahead of the Toronto Raptors and one game behind the Celtics. If Philadelphia has a chance to move up in the standings or is at risk of falling, they will play all their starters. If the standings are settled, the 76ers will likely keep James Harden and Joel Embiid sidelined to avoid injury.
The schedule in Detroit’s final week gives the team a great opportunity to tank the rest of the way. Three of their last four opponents have something to play for. Losing out the rest of the way gives Detroit the best chance to stick to their top three placement in the lottery.
(Featured Image Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)