Hornets nipping at Pistons’ heels

Two teams apparently headed in opposite directions in the Eastern Conference playoff race square off Sunday afternoon when the Detroit Pistons visit the Charlotte Hornets.

The Hornets (26-33) enter the game in worse playoff position (10th in the East) but headed upward in the rankings, having won three straight, including both games since the All-Star break.

Most impressive was their 122-105 victory on Friday at Washington, which allowed Charlotte to move within 2 1/2 games of ninth-place Detroit (28-30) in the playoff race.

While the Hornets were winning on the road Friday night, the Pistons were falling at home, 110-98 to Boston.

The loss was the Pistons’ seventh in a stretch of 13 home outings in their last 15 games.

The teams are meeting in Charlotte for the first time this season after having split two games in Detroit. The Hornets captured a 118-107 victory behind Dwight Howard’s 21 points and 17 assists in the most recent meeting last month.

Howard also came up big when the Hornets came out of the All-Star break with a 111-96 home victory over Brooklyn on Thursday. The big guy overpowered the Nets with 15 points and 24 rebounds.

Kemba Walker (24 points) and Frank Kaminsky (23) were the big guns in the win at Washington.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he thought Kaminsky’s big game was especially uplifting to the team after he totaled six points in his previous two games.

“I think we had three or four guys who were physically, mentally drained there that last week,” Clifford said of the stretch of games leading into the All-Star break. “I think he (Kaminsky) was one of those guys.”

The break hasn’t helped the Pistons, who returned with an unimpressive home victory over Atlanta before the one-sided loss to Boston.

The trickle-down effect of having star point guard Reggie Jackson out with a sprained ankle, combined with having given up two starters (Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley) in the Blake Griffin trade, has impacted the Detroit bench, which produced only 21 points in the loss to the Celtics.

Jackson said he’s getting tired of watching, but still has no timeline for a return.

“I’m making strides, but I’m not where I want to be,” he said after a light workout this week. “I want to be out there with my guys playing and I want to be fully healthy.”

The Pistons are 9-16 since Jackson suffered the injury against Indiana on Dec. 26.

The addition of Griffin late last month hasn’t helped as much as hoped.

The former Los Angeles Clippers star helped Detroit win four straight in his first four games, averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.

But he has shot only 36 percent in his last five games, averaging 18.8 points, while the Pistons have lost four of five.

Griffin has had a successful history against the Hornets with four double-doubles in his last six games against them. He has averaged 24.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in those six games, leading the Clippers to five wins.