No team in last 15 years made playoffs after trailing eighth seed by more than 3.5 games at All-Star break; Pistons sit 4.5 out

Since the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies entered the league for the 1995-96 season, 183 teams trailed the eighth seed at the All-Star break.* Seventeen of those teams made the playoffs (9.3 percent). None of those teams sat more than 3.5 games out at the break.

Two days after the All-Star game, the Pistons trail the Pacers, who currently hold the eighth seed, by 4.5 games.

*Due to the lockout, the NBA didn’t hold an All-Star game in 1999.

So, when Tayshaun Prince said making the playoffs is “pretty much impossible,” he’s pretty much right. I still don’t excuse him in the slightest for saying that. Evaluating the appropriateness of that statement has absolutely nothing to do with its accuracy. But that’s a different topic for a different time.

The matter at hand is how difficult to it is to make the playoffs when not already slotted for the postseason at the All-Star break. The last team to reach the playoffs after trailing the eighth seed by more than 3.5 games at the break was the 1994-95 Denver Nuggets, who overcame a 5.5-game deficit.

Since then, here are the teams who made the playoffs after placing outside the top eight in their conference at the All-Star break:

Year Team Games back
2005 Denver Nuggets 3.5
1997 Phoenix Suns 3.5
2005 New Jersey Nets 3
1997 Washington Bullets 3
2006 Sacramento Kings 2.5
2009 Chicago Bulls 2
2007 New Jersey Nets 2
2006 Chicago Bulls 2
2001 Phoenix Suns 2
2003 Los Angeles Lakers 1.5
2010 Milwaukee Bucks 1
2007 Golden State Warriors 1
2004 Miami Heat 1
1996 Miami Heat 1
2003 Orlando Magic 0.5
2002 Indiana Pacers 0.5
2001 Indiana Pacers 0.5

This isn’t entirely surprising. By the All-Star break, most teams have already established themselves. Even if an outlier team is better than its record, it must be significantly better than its record in order to overcome the deficit.

If the Pistons make the playoffs, they’ll became the first team since the NBA expanded to 29 teams 15 years ago to do so after trailing the eighth seed at the All-Star break by at least four games.

How likely are the Pistons to meet that historic challenge?

Not very.

I’ll ignore that arguably the team’s best player doesn’t think they can do it. Based on this group’s past results, they don’t stand a chance.

As Terry Foster of The Detroit News pointed out in his column today, the Pacers are on pace to win 36 games. For the Pistons to match that, they’d have to finish the season with 15 wins in 25 games.

They went 11-14 in their best 25-game stretch this season. They went 11-14 in their best 25-game stretch last season, too. The Pistons haven’t had a 15-10 stretch in more than 25 months, when Allen Iverson and Amir Johnson were starting for Detroit.

Plus, a 15-10 stretch doesn’t necessarily get the Pistons into the playoffs. That assumes the streaking Pacers don’t exceed their current pace. That assumes Detroit wins the tiebreaker over Indiana. That assumes the the Bobcats and Bucks, the two teams between the Pistons and Pacers, don’t pass Indiana, too.

For the Pistons to make the playoffs, they’d have to significantly surpass their own previous performances, and they’d have to improve in a way no other NBA team has in the last 15 years.

Pretty much impossible.

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