With just 15 games remaining, what would it take for the Pistons to make the playoffs?
The Detroit Pistons currently sit at 34 wins and 33 losses, good enough for ninth place in the Eastern Conference. With just 15 games remaining this season, they are certainly looking to make a playoff push. The Pistons are only slightly behind the Chicago Bulls, who currently own the eighth and last playoff spot. So how can the Pistons improve their play, and what obstacles do they need to overcome to get into the playoffs?
The Pistons’ remaining schedule is of slightly above average difficulty. The win percentage of their remaining opponents ranks 13th highest in the league at 52%. They have eight games remaining against teams with a better record, including games against Atlanta, Miami, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland.
The Pistons have shown they are quite streaky. They had a stretch in February when they lost five straight, then immediately won five, with wins coming against Toronto and Cleveland. So, theoretically, they can pull off a win against any of the teams listed above. But, they can also throw away games against struggling teams, as they lost to the Knicks on Mar. 5, and lost to Denver and New Orleans during that period in February. Teams such as the Nets, Bucks, Kings, or Magic might be able to play the spoiler role against the Pistons.
The biggest obstacle the Pistons face is their competition. In front of them sit the Hornets, Pacers, and Bulls. The Hornets and Pacers show no signs of slowing down, as the Hornets have won seven of their last eight, and the Pacers have won five of their last seven.
This leaves the injury-ridden Chicago Bulls. The Bulls and Pistons are both 13.5 games behind the first seed; however, the Bulls have a slight edge in terms of win percentage. The Pistons will now also have to contend with the Bulls at nearly full strength, as Bulls star, Jimmy Butler, recently made his return to the lineup. Butler missed 15 games with a strained left knee and made his return Monday night against the Raptors. The decision to clear Butler for play corresponds to the Bulls’ desire to make the playoffs, rather than calling it a season to avoid unnecessary re-injuries.
Butler, on whether there’s risk playing now: “You gotta risk it to get the biscuit.”— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 14, 2016
The Bulls’ remaining schedule is also decidedly easier than the Pistons’. The win percentage of their remaining opponents is 46%, ranking 25th highest in the league. Only five out of their remaining 17 games are against teams with a better record. The Bulls should make a push for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference to challenge the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls swept the season series against the Raptors, beating them four times, including a two-point victory on Monday, when none other than Jimmy Butler made a key defensive play to seal the game.
The Bulls and Pistons play each other once more on Apr. 2. The Pistons currently hold the upper hand in the season series, leading two games to one, with the first two games going into overtime. This game will be incredibly important for Detroit to capture the eighth seed in the East.
The Pistons will also have to keep an eye on their tail. The Washington Wizards are 2.5 games behind the Pistons. They also have the third easiest remaining schedule, as the win percentage of their remaining opponents is just 45%. They do, however, have eight out of their remaining 16 games against teams with a better record. Coming in to the week, the Wizards were on a five-game losing streak, with back-to-back losses against two sub-par teams, Utah and Denver. Then on Monday night, they blew out the Pistons 124-81. The Pistons and Wizards will play once more, with the Wizards winning all three games so far. While Washington isn’t as big of a threat as Chicago, they have made the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons, and certainly hope to be back this year.
It would be unfair to say the Pistons’ playoff chances completely depend on the luck of scheduling or other teams. The Pistons can also simply improve their play. I ran a logistical regression to examine which advanced statistics (as defined by Basketball-Reference) affect their probability of winning a game. The model attempts to estimate the probability of winning a game based on pace, FT rate, 3PA rate, TS%, TRB%, AST%, STL%, BLK%, eFG%, TOV%, ORB%, and FT/FGA. The only two statistically significant variables in the model at the 5% level are TRB% and TOV%. The results show that a 1% increase in TRB% increases the log odds ratio by .48, holding the other variables constant; a 1% increase in TOV% decreases the log odds ratio by .43, holding the other variables constant.
To put it simply, the model argues that total rebounding percentage and offensive turnover percentage (committing turnovers), individually, are the useful predictors of winning. If the Pistons improve their rebounding and limit turnovers, their chances of winning improve.
The Pistons may have a tough time against the Wizards, as Washington is ranked second in the league in defensive turnover percentage (forcing turnovers). The Pistons have two games remaining against Atlanta, the third ranked team in the same category. They also face the Bucks, Magic, and Kings, who are ranked seventh, ninth, and 10th respectively. These games may not be a walk in the park for the Pistons. As for TRB%, the Pistons must play the Cavaliers (ranked fourth in TRB%), Hornets (fifth), Heat (seventh), Magic (eighth), and Thunder (tenth). In terms of matchups, the Pistons have tough road ahead.
It’s quite difficult to predict who will finish the year with the eighth seed. The Pistons and their main competition, the Bulls and Wizards, can beat anyone and lose to anyone. The Pistons can either improve enough to surpass the teams ahead, or rely on other teams to fall behind. If it’s the latter option, it could come down to luck of the draw.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, Stats.nba.com, and playoffstatus.com
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