3-on-3: How far can the Pistons realistically slide?

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. With the race for lottery balls being the only competitive race the Pistons (25-44) will be a part of over the season’s final month, what are their chances of slipping one slot down below the Sacramento Kings (25-45) for the seventh-worst record in the NBA?

Patrick Hayes: Nine of Sacramento’s last 12 games are against possible playoff teams, so I’d say there’s little chance of that happening. The Pistons have six lottery teams, including the two worst teams in the league, on their remaining schedule. I’d say it’s fairly likely that the Pistons perform their annual habit of a modest late-season winning streak rather than get bad enough to pass the Kings.

Brady Fredericksen: Likely. Maybe I’m giving the Kings too much credit, but they’re pesky enough to beat teams they shouldn’t beat. If DeMarcus Cousins puts together a huge week, they could fly right past the Pistons. The scary thing is that the Pistons tend to put together late-season runs out of prime lottery position. They’ve got winnable games against bad teams like Cleveland (twice), Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, so I guess those are your “swing games” in this race.

In past years, the Pistons were winning late with fiesty rejects and young players. Now it’s disgruntled vets and (likely) burnt out young guys from yesteryear. This team is bad, so worrying that they’ll magically get hot is, well, probably unneeded. Most of these guys probably want this failure to be over with just as bad as the fans do.

Tim Thielke: The Kings and Pistons are pretty 50-50 for who will finish with the worse record. As an eternal optimist, I’ll pick the Kings to wind up with the better record. But this is a crap shoot that could really go wither way.

2.  What about passing the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers, who currently sit at 23-46 with the sixth-worst record in the NBA?

Patrick Hayes: The Lakers have eight remaining games against possible playoff teams, but they could possibly get Steve Nash and Pau Gasol back this week. And depending on your opinion of whether or not Steve Nash and Pau Gasol still have much of anything to offer this late in their careers, that might help the Lakers pick up some unexpected wins. Still though, I’d err on the side of thinking the Pistons have a better chance of closing the season strong than the Lakers do.

Brady Fredericksen: Possible. The Lakers are confusing. There are some nights where they compete with teams they have no business sharing the floor with, and other nights where they’re flailing around with Ryan Kelly leading the way. I want to say the Pistons can out-stink them, but I don’t think they can. The Pistons play seven more playoff teams, and all could easily be losses, but maybe not enough to sneak this low. If I had to bet on being bad enough to be in position to keep the pick, I’d say they’ll finish with the eighth-worst record — just like always. But, in a cruel twist, Boston and L.A. will sneak up to the No. 1 and 2 picks while the Pistons somehow drop down to No. 9 and lose the pick to Charlotte.

Tim Thielke: The Lakers are definitely a long shot. The Pistons are up two wins with just 13 games to go. The odds of the Pistons having a worse record than the Lakers are under 10%. But there’s probably another 5% chance that they end up tied. The cynic in me, though, insists on pointing out that just as the Pistons could fall behind L.A., they could also pass up the Cavs.

3. If the Pistons slip into the NBA’s bottom five, they’ll 100 percent be assured of keeping their draft pick regardless of lottery movement. What are the chances that the Pistons can pass the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics (both 23-47) for the fourth or fifth-worst record?

Patrick Hayes: Well, here’s the positive (Or is it negative? I’m not sure if positives or negatives exist in discussions of this team and season anymore.): The Pistons have two games vs. Cleveland, one vs. Utah and one vs. Boston among their final games. Losses in all four of those games would significantly improve their chances of keeping their pick. But I’m also not convinced that the Pistons are less motivated to win than any of those other teams. They’re all pretty unmotivated as well. I would put this at close to a zero percent chance of happening if the Pistons beat Utah tonight.

Brady Fredericksen: Slightly possible. The Pistons are only 2.5 games ahead of them, and will actually face off against Utah tonight. For tanking reasons, this is good because not only are the  Pistons chasing the Jazz, but Detroit hasn’t won in EnergySolutions Arena since 2002-03 when Jon Barry scored 10 points off the bench. Seriously. So, with a loss seeming likely tonight will be a step in the right (or wrong?) direction.

Tim Thielke: The odds of falling behind the Lakers, Celtics, or Jazz are virtually identical. But the Pistons won’t out-lose them all. Even if Detroit fails to win another game this season (and I’m optimistically hoping to pull out 11 losses in the last 13), one of those teams would still probably manage to stay behind or tie the Pistons. The 5th or 6th worst record is pretty much the best we can hope for.

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