With 20 games remaining, the Detroit Pistons are in position to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs for the second straight season. They can greatly enhance their prospects with victories during the next two games.
The Pistons, who currently hold the eighth and final playoff berth, face the two teams directly above them in the conference standings. The first of those matchups comes Monday night, when they host the Chicago Bulls.
The teams, who complete the four-game season series at Chicago's United Center later this month, split their first two meetings. If Detroit (30-32) remains in the eighth spot, it likely would face defending champion Cleveland once again. The Cavaliers swept the Pistons in the opening round last spring.
That's why the game on Monday, as well as Detroit's trek to Indiana on Wednesday, takes on added importance. The Pacers (32-30) hold the sixth spot after defeating Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
A 136-106 road victory against Philadelphia on Saturday night gives the Pistons a little momentum heading into their big week, which also includes home games against the Cavaliers and New York Knicks. Saturday's point total was Detroit's highest in regulation since March 2008.
"We did a lot of little things, like screening, moving the ball around, which worked," forward Tobias Harris said. "Our pace on offense was key for us, and we were able to get stops in transition. We had a good flow out there, both groups, we played well as a team."
Coach Stan Van Gundy made a slight alteration to his rotation, deciding to distribute the minutes between struggling point guard Reggie Jackson and backup Ish Smith more evenly. Initial results were positive, with Jackson scoring 21 points in 25 minutes and Smith posting 11 points and 13 assists in 23 minutes.
"I told Reggie he was going to go in shorter bursts, so to push himself, and not pace himself since we had guys coming in to back him up," Van Gundy said. "That's all we talked about. Let it loose a little more and keep our pace up. The energy in that first unit certainly has not been good, and it's not all on Reggie, but we have to follow the point guard, and pick our pace up to attack. I thought he was better with that."
Following a big win over Golden State, Chicago (31-31) lost 101-91 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night. The Bulls scored just 30 points in the second half.
"In the first half, we were free-flowing -- the ball was moving (and) everybody was playing for each other," coach Fred Hoiberg told the Chicago Tribune. "In the second half, we didn't get calls and it affected us on the other end. We have to find a way to fight through the tough times and understand what makes us a successful team."
The team's top offensive threat, swingman Jimmy Butler, took only seven shots and finished with 16 points. He admitted afterward he sometimes struggles with deciding when to shoot and when to keep the ball moving.
"I don't know what I'm seeing," Butler told the team's website. "I'm just trying to play basketball the right way; that's my job. ... I want to get everybody involved. That's what the coaches want me to do, what everybody wants me to do. I'm trying to do that. I think we all know I can shoot the ball anytime I want."