Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat game preview
TV: FOX Sports Sun
Time: Pregame coverage begins at 5:30 p.m.
MIAMI — No team in the NBA is playing worse than the Detroit Pistons right now, and the Miami Heat are below them in the Eastern Conference standings.
That is indicative of how unappealing Sunday night’s New Year’s Day matchup is between Detroit (15-20, 12th place) and Miami (10-24, 13th place).
Only the top eight teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, and Miami, one game ahead of the last-place Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, are nowhere near the postseason.
The Heat, riding a four-game losing streak, is looking like a lottery team for the 2017 NBA Draft. And their top two players, center Hassan Whiteside (eye injury) and point guard Goran Dragic (back), are questionable for Sunday.
Meanwhile, there still is some hope for the Pistons, who made the playoffs last season. But Detroit has lost seven of its past eight games.
Worse yet has been the inconsistency — the Pistons have 14 double-digit wins and 12 double-digit losses.
“We’re certainly not out of (the playoff chase), but every loss puts you more in jeopardy,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told the media earlier this week. “You can’t run from that fact.”
Van Gundy, a former Heat coach who is in his third year running the Pistons, has put the blame for Detroit’s recent failures squarely on his own shoulders.
“I’m embarrassed, not by my players but by me, my performance,” Van Gundy said. “I’m not getting it done.”
Van Gundy said he has never seen a team with performance swings the likes of which he has seen this season with Detroit. He also said that “everything is on the table” in terms of trades.
The Pistons are 4-10 since point guard Reggie Jackson returned from a knee injury that caused him to miss the season’s first 21 games.
Jackson, who has struggled this season, might have turned the corner with 20 points and eight assists in Friday’s 105-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Forward Marcus Morris missed the Hawks game because of an injury to his left knee, and he was replaced by Tobias Harris, who had been benched for three games.
During those three games, Harris averaged 23.3 points, earning his promotion.
Perhaps Jackson and Harris offer some hope. And perhaps a trip to Miami to face the struggling Heat is exactly what the Pistons need.
After all, the Heat allowed Isaiah Thomas to score 52 points — with no assists — in a 117-114 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday.
Unlike the Pistons, who get routed a lot, the Heat plays — and loses — close games frequently. The Heat has played 22 games in which they were within five points with five minutes to play.
Miami is 7-15 in those instances.
The Heat lacks a player with the killer instinct of Thomas, who told reporters on Friday night that playing against Miami in the fourth quarter “felt like I was alone, shooting in the gym.”
Thomas might have been referring to a feeling of being locked in with 29 points in that fourth quarter, but it’s also a pretty strong indictment of Miami’s once-proud defense.
Whiteside, who was poked in his right eye during the Celtics game, will see a doctor this weekend and his status for the game is not yet known.
Dragic has missed two straight games because of his back injury.
The Heat also is dealing with long-term injuries to starting power forward Josh McRoberts (foot) and starting shooting guard Dion Waiters (groin).
“It’s painful in our locker-room,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the media following the loss to Boston.
Spoelstra meant pain as in emotional distress, but he could just as easily have been discussing injuries and physical anguish. With the Heat right now — and the Pistons for that matter — there is enough pain to go around.