Expert NBA Handicapping: Detroit Pistons Looking Like Probable Playoff Team
The Detroit Pistons beat the Timberwolves in overtime in Minneapolis on Wednesday night. It isn't an impressive accomplishment on the surface - the T-Wolves aren't great. And it only moved the Pistons a game above .500 on the season, which is hardly a reason to plan a parade. But they play in the Eastern Conference, so .500 is as good as .600 in the West. They are now alone in sixth place in the conference and they currently have a two-game cushion in their pursuit of a playoff spot. And it's not like there is a great team behind them in the standings - or even a good one for that matter. It's not like the West where five playoff teams from last year are sitting outside the playoffs now and looking for a way back in. Three of last year's Eastern playoff teams are outside right now, too, but while the Heat could feasibly get back if they can get healthy, the Wizards and Cavs have no hope.
Blake Griffin: The Pistons paid a pretty price for Griffin late last year. It's a big question whether it was a good idea. But Griffin has stayed healthy this year and is certainly living up to his expectations. His 25.4 points a game so far are a career best, and his 9.2 boards are his best in six seasons. He's playing very well. But there is a problem. Lately Griffin has played particularly well - he is averaging 29 points per game in his last seven games and has looked as good as he has in a long while. But the team has gone just 2-5 in those games. Griffin is not enough by himself to lift this team, and the supporting cast around him isn't as deep as it could be. And the last time Griffin stayed healthy and finished a whole season without missing significant time was 2103-14. This team is barely relevant with their biggest star playing well, so they would really have issues without him.
One positive impact of Griffin this year is that he is having a really positive impact on Andre Drummond. Drummond is scoring better than he ever has, and his rebounds are at a strong level. The team is much stronger when he is on the court than when he isn't, and the chemistry with Griffin is solid and growing.
Deja vu?: Last year the Pistons started out 14-6 in their first 20 games. Then from Dec. 1 on they went 25-37 to fall out of the playoffs and get a coach fired, and not even the Hail Mary of the Blake Griffin trade could shake them out of their funk. This year the Pistons were only slightly worse than last year at 13-7, but they have gone a dismal 2-7 since. Is this something that they can shake off and avoid a similar fate, or will this be last year all over again? The one bit of good news on this front is that the East is not shaping up as particularly strong this year. Orlando currently holds down the final playoff spot with a winning percentage of .467, and Brooklyn is next up at .455. Last year Washington needed a .524 percentage to grab the last spot, and Detroit missed out in ninth at .476 - a playoff record this year. At least at this point, then, it seems like the Pistons will have more of a margin of error than last year.
Point differential: Last year, 15 of 16 playoff teams had a positive point differential, and the one that didn't - Milwaukee - was just at -0.3. Right now, Detroit is at -0.7. It's really hard to be relevant in this NBA when you allow more points than you score. The same qualifier fits here as for other points, though - there is no team chasing a playoff spot that is positive, and only the Nets, at -0.6, are any better. So, the issues Detroit is having here seem more like a concern when it comes to being relevant when they make the playoffs than with actually making the postseason.
Betting performance: At 15-13-1 ATS on the season, the team has been profitable overall, but not by an amount that would be exciting to anyone. They are 3-0-1 ATS in their last four games, though, so perhaps they are turning a bit of a corner. They have gone "over" the total 14 times and "under" 15, so there haven't been any profits on the total, either. They have gone under in eight of their last 11 games, though, so again there are profits in the short term.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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