Following Sunday night’s 108-96 loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Detroit Pistons are down to three remaining games before their 2020-21 season comes to a merciful end. At 20-49, the Pistons have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and own a better mark than only the Houston Rockets.
The Magic, Timberwolves, Cavaliers and Thunder all have 21 wins, so even though the NBA has changed the rules regarding the lottery to discourage tanking by giving the bottom-three an equal 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The teams with the fourth-worst through sixth-worst records will have a 10.7 percent chance at the top spot, and despite the moves to try and keep a competitive balance intact as long as possible, teams with no chance to reach the playoffs have still rested their top players down the stretch in order to improve their chances of landing a top player on Thursday, July 29.
The Pistons have rested top-scoring forward Jerami Grant in six of the last seven games. Center Mason Plumlee has only suited up once as well, giving the team’s younger players like rookies Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and Killian Hayes ample opportunities to gain experience.
Despite Tank Job, Pistons Have Managed Multiple Upsets
Their growing pains have resulted in Detroit losses in nine of its past 11 games. On April 26, the Pistons rose up and defeated the Hawks outright as a 4-point underdog. Last Thursday, another team in the midst of a playoff chase fell victim to the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena when the Grizzlies were turned back 111-97.
Memphis was playing on the second night of a back-to-back but no-showed in a game where veteran guards Cory Joseph and Wayne Ellington each scored 18 points, leading seven Pistons in double-figures. Ja Morant, returning former Michigan State star Jaren Jackson, Jr. and 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas all played and produced but too many others no-showed in one of last week’s biggest upsets.
Detroit opened as a 10-point underdog, closed getting nine points against the Grizzlies and paid out +350 on the money line at many sportsbooks. Their win over Atlanta netted back +150, one-and-a-half times your investment, on the money line.
With the exception of the Timberwolves, the Pistons are facing teams playing to secure the best seeding possible in the upcoming NBA playoffs, so they’re going to be heavy underdogs. The Bulls are hoping to catch Indiana for the 10th and final spot in the Eastern Conference and closed as a 9-point favorite, covering the spread with a 12-point win. Chicago led by 10 after a quarter, was up 18 at halftime, and in control all night.
The Pistons did make Bulls backers sweat by closing within 10 in the 1:09 left. Hayes even had a chance to put Detroit in position to push but missed a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left. Playing exclusively with the youngest, most inexperienced players on the roster, Dwane Casey’s team still had a chance to cash for spread bettors in the closing minute.
There may be opportunities to take advantage this week, or you may want to fade them every time out given that remaining at 20 wins keeps them in prime position to secure the highest draft pick. Grant may get one more night of work this season after overcoming knee soreness, while Plumlee could finally return to the starting lineup. Those are key guys the Pistons play through. Josh Jackson could return from tooth surgery and it remains to be seen whether Hamidou Diallo gets back from health and safety protocols, so checking on which players will be available is essential if you’re betting the Pistons this week.
Here’s a breakdown of the week ahead and the opponents Detroit will face.
Timberwolves Visit On May 11 As Anti-Tankers
Since April 16, Minnesota has actually been a winning basketball team, capturing victories in seven of a dozen contests. Despite being in jeopardy of losing their draft pick to the Warriors this year if it doesn’t land in the top three, the Timberwolves have decided that developing Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Rookie of the Year candidate Anthony Edwards is more important than resting them and fading away.
Detroit’s Grant, averaging over 22 points per game, was listed as ‘questionable’ against the Bulls, so it’s conceivable he’d be back for this one. If closer to full strength, this might end up a pick’em. However, if the same inexperienced team that took the floor against the Bulls is out there, Minnesota would likely be favored by at least a few points.
Multiple Timberwolves are playing at a high level and produced a 128-96 blowout win in Orlando on Sunday night. Tanking isn’t in their mindset and they’re playing veteran Ricky Rubio at the point with no thought to any maintenance. The ‘under’ connected due to the Magic’s failure to score but the high side had prevailed in Minnesota’s previous three games. The Timberwolves had surrendered 122.8 points per game over their previous five games before facing Orlando. They’re averaging 122.8 points over their last six entering this contest.
Nuggets Arrive May 14 in Hunt for West’s No. 3 Seed
As the week begins, the Clippers lead Denver by a full game in the race for the West’s No. 3 seed. The Nuggets own the tie-breaker over L.A., so they’re likely to be heavily engaged since they would probably prefer to be placed in Phoenix’s bracket as opposed to Utah’s.
The Nuggets have dropped consecutive games against the Jazz and Nets, surrendering 127 and 125 points respectively. They hope to get Will Barton back from a hamstring issue and Monte Morris is close to returning as well, but this is going to be the team’s third game in four nights. Placed in that situation against Brooklyn on Saturday night, head coach Michael Malone opted to rest forwards Aaron Gordon and Paul Millsap.
Nikola Jokic hasn’t missed a game this season, but if the Nuggets aren’t successful in the first two legs of their season-ending four-game road trip in Charlotte and Minnesota, it’s conceivable this could become a winnable game for the Pistons depending on who, if anyone, is rested. If Denver plays most of its regulars, it will almost certainly be favored by at least 5.5 points even if Grant and Plumlee play. This will follow a game in Minneapolis for the Nuggets, so it’s similar to the second night of a back-to-back situation that tripped up the Grizzlies at Little Caesars Arena last week.
Invested Heat Close Out Season on May 16
The regular season closes on Sunday for both Miami and Detroit. The Heat opened the week even with the Hawks for the Southeast Division lead and just one game behind the Knicks for the No. 4 spot, which carries homecourt advantage as a reward.
Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro have all been out of the lineup in recent weeks but have them all back in the mix. Following an enormous 130-124 win on Sunday over the Celtics, Miami has put itself in a great position to avoid the play-in tournament but it opens action in Tuesday’s rematch in Boston eyeing that fourth spot that would allow it to open the postseason in South Florida.
The Heat will close out their home regular-season schedule against the 76ers on Thursday night and will play at Milwaukee against the Bucks on Saturday night. The playoffs have essentially started for Miami, which almost certainly will have something to play for as they visit Detroit for the 72nd and final game. While there may be a maintenance situation or two worth watching, it’s highly unlikely that the Pistons would be anything but an underdog of at least five points if the Heat are taking the game seriously.
Detroit may be in “youth movement” mode here too since a loss would likely cement a bottom-three finish. Miami has seen its last nine games go “over” the posted total entering Tuesday’s rematch with the Celtics.