Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Pistons will have a big two-game set against the Charlotte Bobcats — a team they’re chasing for the East’s final playoff spot. How big are these two games?
Dan Feldman: As big as a mid-February back-to-back can get. Not only will these two games essentially count double as the Pistons try to make up ground in the playoff race, they could determine the Detroit’s direction as a franchise. I expect the Pistons to stay the course regardless before Thursday’s trade deadline, but if they’re pondering a move — buying or selling — these two games could make the difference.
Patrick Hayes: In a normal playoff race, they’d be huge. But this year in the East? I’m not convinced. Of course the Pistons would feel much better about their chances if they come out of this with a sweep, but I’m not fully convinced the Bobcats organization wants to make the playoffs that badly — seeing a team like Cleveland surge past them, meaning they’d get two lottery picks if Detroit doesn’t get bad enough to finish in the top eight wouldn’t be a bad scenario for the team as it gets set to launch its re-brand next season. The Pistons could falter in one or both games and still likely have plenty of opportunities to gain ground in the race for the eighth seed later on.
Jameson Draper: These are big games. Not necessarily because of the actual standings and playoff spot, but it will kind of set the tone for the second half of the season and it will give us a good view of where John Loyer‘s new team is headed for the next couple of months.
2. Aside from two games in the standings, what can the Pistons gain from sweeping the Bobcats?
Dan Feldman: For one, they’d get the tiebreaker over Charlotte. Only a sweep would win it, because the Pistons lost to the Bobcats in December in the first game of the three-game series. More so, they would hopefully get a renewed sense of purpose while putting their opponent in a crisis of confidence. But that depends how the games go. The Pistons would have just a half game lead, and there’s no logical reason for Charlotte to panic no matter what happens. The Pistons have the hardest remaining schedule (based on opponents’ combined winning percentage) in the Eastern Conference, and they have the third-highest percentage of remaining games on the road.
Patrick Hayes: Well, hopefully a two-game sweep of the Bobcats wouldn’t give the Pistons too much confidence, considering it is still the Bobcats after all. But they would gain ground in the playoff race, they would own the tie-breaker and they would start the post-All-Star stretch run with a bit of positive momentum.
Jameson Draper: They can gain experience and confidence. Sweep the Bobcats? You just swept a playoff team. Not only will that give them the confidence needed to go out and beat other better teams, but it will give them experience as to what they’ll need to do to get a win.
3. What kind of impact might it have on the Pistons if they go the other direction and get swept at the hands of the more consistent Bobcats?
Dan Feldman: That would put the Pistons 2.5 games out of playoff position 114 days into the season. While that might not seem like much, it is. In the previous 10 years, nine teams have been between two and three games out that far into the season. Eight of them missed the playoffs. It wouldn’t be impossible for the Pistons to come back, but it would be an uphill battle.
Patrick Hayes: I don’t think it will have any. With Maurice Cheeks‘ firing, the goal is still pretty clearly making the playoffs. Falling 2.5 games out of eighth place would certainly be a setback, but come on … it’s the still the Bobcats, a team that has only made the playoffs once in its franchise’s existence. Charlotte is improved, but as I said above, they have incentive to both make and miss the playoffs. Making them gives the team positive momentum and a proof point that they’re young talent is improving heading into the big Charlotte Hornets relaunch last year. But missing while hoping the Pistons also miss but don’t get too terrible would potentially give them two lottery picks in a great draft to add even more to their improving young core ahead of next season. This is not a traditional playoff race, so I expect the Pistons to have plenty of chances to get back in it even if they falter.
Jameson Draper: I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I’m going to anyway. If they get swept by the Bobcats, the Pistons will not make the playoffs. That will set the tone negatively for the second half of the season and wipe away all confidence they might have gained from their little winning streak last week.