It’s becoming an April tradition unlike any other.
No, not just the Masters; the Detroit Pistons winning meaningless basketball games and compromising their draft standing. The Pistons won again on Friday night, pounding the hopeless Charlotte Bobcats 113-93, fighting off another team they’re competing with in the draft lottery and putting their pick status in jeopardy. A 28-52 record won’t make many dramatic moves in the standings, but a few weeks ago, the Pistons did have 24 losses, which was good for the fourth worst record in the league. Don’t look now, but they’re closing in on potentially finishing the season with 30 wins.
Friday’s victory helped elongate a three game streak which also included a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, another team in direct competition for ping pong balls. Detroit, much like the last three seasons, is putting everything together at the most inopportune time. The Pistons seem to show more effort towards the end of the season, which is the most frustrating thing for fans. They get big performances out of unexpected sources when it’s too late, find new stars, show a new motivation and dominate.
The 2013 draft class might not have an obvious prize or two at the very top, but the Pistons could continue to accelerate their elongated rebuilding process by netting a higher pick this season. Players like Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Otto Porter could be excellent prizes if Detroit is able to hang around the 3-6 position. The Pistons have done decently in the past few years getting Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to fall in their lap, and could directly benefit from a higher than usual pick in June.
That only works, however, if the team is able to maintain a little of their usual losing momentum near the end of the season while literally nothing is on the line. If the Pistons could play with as much passion in January and February as they seem to do in April, the team might have a real shot at contending for a playoff spot. Instead, the Pistons always insult their fans by winning the games they don’t really need to late.
Regardless of what happens, another unremarkable season will end this coming Wednesday night in Brooklyn, New York. At times, there were glimmers of hope that lend to the belief that when basketball begins again in October 2013, things will become a bit more remarkable in Auburn Hills. The path to another round of rebuilding will begin again, and hopefully, the Pistons can put a few more things together.
Two more losses to close the season and solidify a top five pick wouldn’t hurt this, either.
Last Five Games: at Boston (L), at Minnesota (L), Chicago (W), at Cleveland (W), Charlotte (W)
Final Two Games: vs. Philadephia, at Brooklyn
Most Valuable Piston: Andre Drummond. A 29 point outburst against the Cavaliers was bookended by two solid performances against Chicago and Charlotte (15 points, 9 rebounds and one block). The hope is that Drummond’s development continues to trend upward like it has the second half of this season and he can take off by 2014. Certainly, it finally looks as if Detroit has found another excellent center since being devoid of one since Ben Wallace’s departure in 2006.
Powerless Piston: Charlie Villanueva. Joe Dumars’ biggest free agency blunder looks to be limping to a finish in his Detroit tour. WIthin the three game winning streak, Villanueva was unremarkable, minus a 12 point game against Chicago. Since, in two games, he’s contributed six points and two rebounds. There won’t be many Pistons’ fans who will be heartbroken if this is, indeed, Villanueva’s final stretch in Detroit.
Key To Maintaining Success: Remain bombers from deep. The Pistons made 12-18 threes against Charlotte and 9-18 against Chicago, which fueled two wins. Not coincidentally, the Pistons won both of those games by double digits, showcasing the value of their good three point shooting. The team hasn’t done that consistently well enough this season, so it figures that as the year draws to a close, the Pistons would start making their three point baskets at a much better clip.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax