By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – As the Detroit Pistons try to make up ground and wriggle into the playoff picture, a two-game miniseries with the eighth-place Charlotte Bobcats will be one of their best opportunities.
Currently a half-game behind the Bobcats for the last Eastern Conference slot, the Pistons could leapfrog Charlotte with a series sweep this week. Winning both games would also give Detroit the tiebreaker.
The Bobcats currently lead the season series 1-0. Charlotte won the first meeting back on Dec. 20, when the Pistons blew what was at one point at 20-point lead as the Bobcats outscored Detroit 41-17 in the fourth quarter.
“We owe them one,” Detroit guard Will Bynum said after the team’s morning shootaround. “They snuck out of here the first time. We were up like 16. That’s still fresh on our mind.”
Players had this series on their radar even as they approached their final game before the All-Star break.
“We understand the importance of what we need to do now in order to be able to make a playoff push,” forward Josh Smith said Feb. 12 before the Pistons played the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Those guys are right in front of us, and we’ve got to be able to make a conscious effort of winning this game tonight and then when we come back off the All-Star break trying to win those two games.”
Detroit had won five of seven games leading into the break before an all-too-familiar fourth-quarter collapse against Cleveland. Charlotte had lost three of its last five, but both the Bobcats and Pistons are 5-5 in their last 10 games.
“Coming back home, especially with a team that’s right above us, those games are going to be very important,” Pistons guard Brandon Jennings said before the break, adding that he would still be thinking about the Bobcats on vacation. “If we can win those two, I think that’s really going to have our confidence at a sky high.”
Interim coach John Loyer, now 1-1 since the Pistons fired head coach Maurice Cheeks, spent the break reviewing Detroit’s earlier miscues and devising a plan to maximize the Pistons’ strengths in their last 30 games.
Offensive discipline will be key for Detroit against Charlotte, which ranks fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage defense and fourth in points allowed. The Pistons will also need to contain the Bobcats’ two best scoring threats – forward Al Jefferson, currently averaging a double-double with 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and point guard Kemba Walker, who is putting up 18.1 points per game and dishing 5.2 assists on average.
Both players torched the Pistons back in December – Walker for 34 points and Jefferson for 24, with 15 of those points coming in that one-sided fourth quarter.
“Al Jefferson’s one of the best bigs in the league, especially with his back to the basket,” Bynum said. “It’s going to take a total team effort. It’s going to take a total team effort for Kemba Walker as well, stopping him in transition and just making him take contested shots.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Bynum added, “but we’re up for the task.”