The Detroit Pistons’ recent play has them more closely resembling one of the league’s top teams rather than the last-place club in the Central Division.
They can further establish their legitimacy Monday night when they visit the Atlantic-leading Toronto Raptors.
The Pistons (13-24) have won eight of nine contests since they waived Josh Smith on Dec. 22. Their offensive output has risen from 94.4 to 106.2 points per game, their field-goal percentage has jumped from 41.3 to 46.5 percent, their turnovers are down (13.8 to 12.6), their assists are up (20.4 to 22.8) and they’ve allowed 94.3 points per game after yielding 101.1 in their first 28.
"It’s fun, man," Jonas Jerebko told the Pistons’ official website. "It’s fun back at The Palace. I’ve seen it a few times, but it’s fun seeing it two days in a row. The city is really coming behind us. We’re trying to show them a good product that’s easy to sell. I think it’s pretty fun to watch us play right now."
Since Dec. 26, the Pistons are 5-0 on the road and 3-1 at home, losing only to Southeast-leading Atlanta 106-103 on Friday. They bounced back the next night at The Palace, downing Brooklyn 98-93 behind 20 points and 11 assists from Brandon Jennings and 17 rebounds from Greg Monroe.
After owning the NBA’s third-worst record on Christmas, Detroit now finds itself just three games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with 45 games to play.
"It was big," Kyle Singler said of Saturday’s win. "Coach (Stan Van Gundy) said something after the game last night saying we’re not falling back into losing and going backwards. This was big for us."
Toronto (25-11) found itself trending in the opposite direction with a season-worst four-game skid before notching a 109-96 win over Boston on Saturday. The Raptors had allowed 114.0 points per game during their losing streak, but forced 13 turnovers in the second and third quarters while outscoring the Celtics 63-39.
"I thought our defensive mojo was back," coach Dwane Casey said. "I saw guys moving their feet, cracking down, rebounding, doing the things we needed to do with activity and anticipation."
James Johnson, who started his sixth game of the season Saturday, figures to receive plenty of playing time Monday against Detroit after he recorded 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks against Boston for his second double-double this season.
"He can guard the bigger wings, he can block shots, he can handle the ball, he gives us another ball handler," Casey said. "We knew that with James. He’s a talented young man."
Johnson had 12 points off the bench when the Raptors beat the Pistons 110-100 at The Palace on Dec. 19, though that game might be best remembered for his extracurricular activity with Andre Drummond. Detroit’s big man smashed into Johnson with his forearm and hip after being dunked on in the fourth quarter, setting off a melee that saw Drummond get a flagrant foul and four technicals called.
Kyle Lowry had only 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting in that win, Toronto’s fourth straight in the series.