Pistons close out home schedule vs. Heat with playoff seed in the balance
Stan Van Gundy undertook the project of rebuilding the Detroit Pistons back into a contender as coach and president of basketball operations prior to last season and acknowledges there’s still plenty of work to be done to reach that level.
Still, qualifying for the playoffs is a major coup this early in the process, and that’s exactly why he doesn’t care who the Pistons play when the postseason begins.
The Miami Heat could face the same opponent whether they open at home or on the road. They’ve played much better in their own arena lately, though, and need to win their final two starting at Detroit on Tuesday night (7 p.m. pregame, 7:30 tipoff on FOX Sports Detroit) to ensure they start there.
The Pistons (43-37) will be out to ruin Miami’s chances for that advantage despite knowing they’ll be traveling to either Cleveland or Toronto for their playoff opener. Indiana is also 43-37 but owns the head-to-head tiebreaker that would give Detroit the eighth seed and a matchup with the Cavaliers.
None of that matters to Van Gundy, who has guided the Pistons to their first playoff appearance in six years after going 32-50 last season. They wrapped up a berth with Friday’s 112-99 win over Washington as Reggie Jackson — the only starter with postseason experience — scored 39 points.
"It’s huge for us. It’s huge for our organization," Van Gundy said. "It’s a great milestone for them to get in and we hope this is just the start of bigger things. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and this is it."
It’ll be the first playoff appearance for most of Detroit’s young core that includes 22-year-old standout Andre Drummond, who leads the league with 66 double-doubles. Three have come in each meeting with the Heat (47-33), including a 12-point, 13-rebound effort in a 107-89 road loss last Tuesday after the Pistons won the first two meetings.
That’s one of only three defeats in the last 12 games as Detroit pulled away from Chicago and Washington to get into the postseason with some time to spare.
"I was the backup before, we were always clinching at around 60 games (with Oklahoma City) and we always knew that we would be there," said Jackson, who is averaging 26.5 points over his last four. "We’re a young team, we’re growing together, we have a nice mixture of players who are very young and some older veterans who have been here. We’re just trying to figure this thing out."
Dwyane Wade has won three championships with Miami but went through a difficult 37-45 campaign last season after LeBron James returned to Cleveland. The Heat have improved drastically, though, despite Chris Bosh again being out with a blood clot issue.
They’re tied with Boston for home advantage in a potential first-round series and will have a chance to lock it up in Wednesday’s matchup against the Celtics at TD Garden if they can get past the Pistons.
Miami has won 10 of its last 11 at home but lost four of five on the road.
"We’re going to go, we’re going to play two games, we’ll go out there and compete and whatever happens after that happens," Wade said after scoring 17 points in Sunday’s 118-96 win over Orlando.
"If we start at home, it’s going to be great for this team. If we don’t, it’s going to be a great challenge. But either way we’re going to be preparing for the playoffs."
It’s unclear if rookie Justise Winslow will be available after leaving in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Winslow will travel with the team.
"Most importantly, I’m going to try to be 100 percent (for the playoffs)," Winslow said. "I’ll see whether I can play through it Tuesday or Wednesday."