Will Pistons get punished for trying to win?

Detroit Pistons guard Cory Joseph (18) vs. Heat. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Pistons guard Cory Joseph (18) vs. Heat. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons proved against the Miami Heat, even without Cade Cunningham, that they can play right with the top team in the Eastern Conference. If they can achieve that level, the Pistons basically can beat anyone. But will they get punished with their draft position for being competitive near the end of the season?

The Miami game seemed like a perfect storm for the Pistons to be blown out of the water. They were facing a Heat team in first place in the very competitive Eastern Conference, and Miami is extra tough at home. Detroit was also without Cade Cunningham, its best shooter in Frank Jackson and best defensive player in Hamidou Diallo.

An 18-50 team shorthanded, playing in the arena of the No. 1 team in the East, is a recipe for disaster. But it was not. Actually, it was a really good game, and if not for some last minute heroics by Tyler Herro, Miami could have been upset.

Even some people who know the team well, are surprised at its recent competitiveness:

Detroit is 6-6 since beating the Celtics the game before the All-Star break, and none of their losses were by more than 11 points. Cunningham has said the players discuss how, if they had played this way at the start of the season, they probably would be in contention for a spot in the Play-in tournament.

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The fine play is, of course, good news. Let’s face it, the early season edition of Detroit was not fun to watch. Losing 14 games in a row, and being 5-28, might be good for draft position, but not for fans wanting to sit and enjoy seeing their team in action.

The Detroit Pistons are not bad, is that a problem?

However, while Detroit is starting to win games, others teams are losing, all of the current bottom five teams are on a losing streak. That may present an issue for the Pistons future.

To go over the Draft Lottery rules: The bottom three teams all will have a 14% chance to get the No. 1 pick in the draft. However, the team with the worst record can be placed no worse than fifth, second no worse than sixth and the third-worst can not be pushed back farther than No. 7 overall. So where you finish is important, to a degree.

Remember the Pistons had the second-worst record last year, and still got the No. 1 pick for the first time in 51 years.

As of the morning of March 16, Detroit has the third-worst record in the NBA standings:

30. Houston Rockets: 17-51

29. Orlando Magic: 18-52

28.: Detroit Pistons: 18-51


27. Oklahoma City: 20-48

26. Indiana Pacers: 23-47

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So, with 13-14 games for most teams remaining in the season, Detroit is just a half-game out of having the worst record (good for the draft), but are also just 2.5 games ahead of the Thunder for the fourth-worst (Not good for draft position).

The continually rebuilding Oklahoma CIty Thunder have lost six in a row, and not exactly looking to turn their fortunes around. The public realizes it, as you can buy a Thunder ticket for as low as $3.

OKC went 3-21 to finish last year, so they are kind of experts at not winning  to finish a season.

Detroit, the way they are playing, should win more than three games in its remaining matchups. The Thunder may not win another game. Assuming Houston and Orlando keep losing (and they probably will) and the Thunder keep tanking, that could put the Pistons in the No. 27 spot, which cuts their ping pong balls to 11.5%. Not awful, but not the highest possible chance.

Orlando does have the second-easiest schedule the rest of the way, so they may string some wins together. Hey, they have Markelle Fultz back.

But if Detroit continues to look good, possibly the Pacers could be caught, even though Detroit is 4.5 games behind them.

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In the worst case scenario, Detroit could draft as low as 9th (although just a 0.6 percent possibility) if Indiana  and Oklahoma City do finish with a worse record. In a draft not thought to be very deep, that would be a disappointment.

Making the playoffs is the objective of every team, but, if you are not making it, getting a high draft pick is at least decent consolation prize. Not getting in the playoffs or having a high draft choice, would kind of be lousy way to end the season.

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It would be shame that Detroit looking like a decent team in the final quarter of the season could mean not getting a high draft pick, mostly because other teams are shamelessly throwing games. RIght now, Detroit is OK in terms of draft position, we will see how the rest of the season goes.