Snow Day

Mother Nature puts momentum on hold with Pistons postponement

Philips Arena
Philips Arena in Atlanta
Larry Luk
The latest impediment to the Pistons building even the modicum of momentum necessary to make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference: the one in a thousand odds of an NBA postponement.

Throw in the likelihood of a Southern snow and ice storm of the sort that gripped Georgia just in time to postpone Wednesday’s Pistons-Hawks game and you get the sort of luck that’s dogged the Pistons since Rodney Stuckey slammed his thumb in a car door to get training camp off on the wrong foot. Or hand, as it were.

When you’re winning, you want games, not postponements and practices. The Pistons are now off until Saturday, when they host Philadelphia. The Pistons (18-27) are tied with New York for ninth in the East, but tied in the loss column with Charlotte (19-27). Recent surges by Washington, Chicago and Brooklyn have given them some separation from the field and increased the sense of urgency for the Pistons to pick up the pace.

As Mo Cheeks said when asked before Tuesday’s game with Orlando if the Pistons still believed they were a playoff team, “You’ve got to believe.”

So the Pistons will look at the glass as half full coming out of their convincing win over the Magic.

The half-empty argument argues that they snapped a four-game losing streak – and a three-game home skid – against the league’s second-worst team, missing its All-Star center candidate Nikola Vucevic.

But when you’re in a tailspin of the type the Pistons were amid, you can lose to anyone, anywhere. They fell at league-worst Milwaukee last week, outscored 41-25 to close the game, and two nights later lost at home to lottery-bound New Orleans when the Pelicans were missing four of their top six scorers, outscored 43-25 to close that one.

They gave up 116 points Sunday at Dallas, the key to that loss a familiar theme: not enough resistance to paint penetration.

So count it as a major victory that the Pistons limited Orlando to a paltry 22 points in the paint during Tuesday’s 103-87 win. It was only the fifth time this season the Pistons have held an opponent under 90 points and the first time Dec. 7 that they’ve both held a team under 90 points and won.

“We really emphasized that today in our shootaround, the defense aspect of the game,” Andre Drummond said after his 13-point, 17-rebound effort – with two blocked shots – helped establish a tone. “It showed tonight. We were speaking, we were communicating and we were in the right spots defensively.”

Orlando is 29th in the league in points in the paint per game, but the 22 points still was well below the Magic’s average of 36 such points. The Pistons are 19th in the league in points in the paint allowed at 42.8.

The Pistons have 37 remaining games, and even if a sub-.500 record figures to get the in the playoffs, it’s fair to guess they’ll have to at least virtually split their remaining games to have a shot. A 19-18 stretch run would give the Pistons a 36-46 record and a fighting chance.

And that means they’ll have to do a few things consistently starting now: (1) start winning a lot more often than they lose at home; (2) beat losing teams more often than not, home or away; (3) turn in defensive efforts like Tuesday’s routinely.

They would have preferred putting their new-found defensive success to the test again immediately at Atlanta, but Mother Nature joined the forces aligned against them. No makeup date has yet been assigned by the NBA, though both teams have a gap in their schedule in late February. Both teams have games on Feb. 25, a Wednesday – the Pistons at San Antonio, the Hawks at home vs. Chicago – and then have the next two nights off. Philips Arena is booked for a concert on Feb. 26 but Feb. 27 is open. The Pistons are scheduled to play at Houston on Feb. 28 and the Hawks are off until March 1.

The Pistons will have a greater grasp of their playoff fate by then. If you’re a glass half-full sort, you’d like to believe Tuesday’s win over Orlando was the launching of their playoff push.