By NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Pistons are entering the home stretch in more ways than one.
With a playoff spot now a realistic possibility, Detroit will play its next nine games at the Palace, the longest homestand in franchise history. The Pistons don’t have another road game until April 2 at Chicago. By then, they hope to have taken a big step toward their first postseason berth since 2009.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had this long of a stretch at home,” said forward Anthony Tolliver, an eight-year NBA veteran.
This is the longest homestand for any NBA team this season, although it’s not that unusual. The Los Angeles Clippers played nine straight home games last season, according to STATS.
Detroit (34-33) is one percentage point behind Chicago (33-32) in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons are 19-11 at home so far this season.
“We wanted to have a bigger cushion in this race,” rookie Stanley Johnson said. “We put a tough bargain on ourselves.”
The homestand begins Wednesday night against Atlanta, then come four straight teams with losing records — Sacramento, Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Orlando. The stretch ends with three tougher opponents — the Hawks again, followed by Oklahoma City and Dallas.
Four of Detroit’s last six games of the regular season will be on the road, so the time to make a move in the standings is now. The Bulls play nine of their final 17 games on the road.
One person who isn’t taking anything in the upcoming stretch for granted is Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy, who was still miffed Tuesday about his team’s 43-point loss at Washington on Monday night.
“I’ve never had a team have a performance like that,” he said of the game, in which the Pistons turned the ball over 21 times.
The Pistons practiced Tuesday, and the homestand will allow an easier schedule between games, since the team doesn’t have to worry about travel. But Van Gundy said that’s the only real advantage to being back home.
“Practice is easier, a little bit,” Van Gundy said. “But other than that, nothing. Like we just said at the end — having nine straight home games means nothing if you’re not going to bring great energy and effort.”
The Pistons have played six of their last seven games on the road, and appeared to be in good shape after a win at Dallas last Wednesday. Then, they lost by 15 to Charlotte, had to rally past woeful Philadelphia and were routed by the Wizards.
“Our starts of games were pretty consistent the last three games. We weren’t ready to play at the beginning of any of them,” Van Gundy said. “We’re coming with no focus, just throwing the ball around. What we’ve done at the beginning of the last three games has been very unprofessional.”
But Detroit has an immediate chance to make up lost ground — as well as to make or break its playoff pursuit.
“It does take a toll on your body, traveling that much,” Tolliver said. “Every team goes through that, so it’s never an excuse to lose a game or anything like that, but it’s definitely nice to be able to settle in and eat home-cooked food and get into your rhythm and the things that you want to do — be able to come shoot when you want to shoot, all those types of things.”
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