Detroit Pistons entering season-defining stretch

Detroit Pistons point guard Derrick Rose. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons point guard Derrick Rose. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The next 19 games will take the Detroit Pistons to the All-Star break. Their roster will likely change and they could still make a playoff push.

The Detroit Pistons will define their season over the course of the next month, for better or worse.

The Pistons (14-24) began a 20-game stretch with a 115-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which Sekou Doumbouya delivered an arrival announcement by dunking on Tristan Thompson. But the following 19 games leading up to the trade deadline and All-Star Weekend are important.

Detroit gained a game closer to the eighth playoff spot, currently sitting three games behind the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets, without Kyrie Irving, are on a seven-game losing streak. The two teams will meet on Jan. 25 and again on Jan. 29.

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Of the remaining 19 games, only four are against teams with a winning record. Those games include at the Boston Celtics (25-9) on Jan. 15, hosting Toronto (24-13) on Jan. 29, then Denver (25-11) on Feb. 2 and visiting the Thunder (21-16) on Feb. 7.

Eleven of the 19 games are against Eastern Conference teams, which the Pistons have a 10-18 record against this season. They’re winless against the Bulls, Wizards and Hornets. Detroit can right those wrongs with a game against each during this stretch.

The Pistons will have to make a run during this stretch if they want to make the playoffs. After all, owner Tom Gores and the front office will use this period to evaluate the organization moving forward.

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It’s a tough predicament for a team that is without last season’s All-NBA selection in Blake Griffin, who just underwent his second knee surgery in eight months. Reggie Jackson has missed all but two games this season, and Detroit News beat writer Rod Beard reported Tuesday that Jackson saw a specialist in Los Angeles on Tuesday and still has no timetable for his return. The news comes one month after he received positive news in December and was nearing a return. He’ll continue to participate in basketball activities.

Luke Kennard has missed the last seven games with a knee injury, which has put a damper on the best season of his career.

Through it all, there’s still a likelihood the Pistons trade Andre Drummond. The 26-year-old center is the league’s best rebounder and should attract one solid asset despite having his contract set to expire. He does have a $28.8 million player option for next season that could make him more valuable.

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A handful of teams are reported to have interest in Drummond. The Hawks, Hornets and even contending teams set up for sustained success like the Mavericks may place a higher evaluation due to obtaining his bird rights.

On Tuesday, New York Times’ Marc Stein reported that there’s a growing belief among teams that the Pistons have confidence in trading Drummond by the Feb. 6 deadline. Other teams that reportedly have interest are the Celtics and Raptors. Even the Cleveland Cavaliers could be swayed, and the Pistons big man was impressive with 23 points, 20 rebounds and five assists.

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If the Pistons could find a way to push towards the playoffs, even with the distractions and if Drummond were to be traded, it would be remarkable. The young players may not know better. They’re competitive, learning on the fly and have been impressive.

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Over his last four games, Doumbouya is averaging 13 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He started all four games, which started against Kawhi Leonard, then Draymond Green and, as if that wasn’t a tough enough challenge, LeBron James.

He’s been inactive for 25 games this season, spending time at the G League level with the Grand Rapids Drive. While there he was able to get acclimated to the Pistons system, and it proves his importance with how well he’s been playing.

Detroit is in a season of transition with veterans like Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris and Langston Galloway that could also draw trade interest. But they also have young players such as Bruce Brown, Kennard, Doumbouya and Christian Wood.

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The Pistons season will be defined by the next 19 games, both on and off the court.