Tag Archives: Detroit

Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.

In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.

Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.

In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.

Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.

Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.

The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.

The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.

The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?

It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.

The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.

The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.

I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…

(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)

Trade Grade: Motiejunas to Detroit

Earlier today, news broke that Houston had traded Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to Detroit for Joel Anthony and a top-8 protected 2016 first round pick. Houston then sent Anthony along with Denver’s 2017 second round pick to Philadelphia for the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons should have just stopped while they were ahead. After ripping Orlando off in Tuesday’s trade for Tobias Harris, Detroit had long-term starters at all five positions and adding in Motiejunas only creates a logjam in the frontcourt.

Furthermore, Motiejunas is coming off a serious back injury and is a restricted free agent after this season. At that point, after only two months of playing for them, the Pistons will have to decide whether or not to shell out a significant amount of cash to keep Motiejunas around for years to come.

It’s not like Motiejunas is a bad player. The seven-footer is capable of shooting threes, having shot nearly 37% from downtown last season on 1.9 attempts per game. He’s a useful player to have around as he provides flexibility as a stretch big man.

The problem isn’t Motiejunas; it’s the price the Pistons had to pay for him (and also Thornton, who was a throw-in, even though he had some nice moments early in the season).

That first rounder would have been another cheap player to add to their core, but instead, they’ll likely be forced to pay a ton of money to keep Motiejunas in restricted free agency after the season.

It wasn’t an awful idea for Detroit to acquire someone like Motiejunas, but there were certainly cheaper ways to do so.

Grade: C-

Philadelphia 76ers

Sam Hinkie has done it again. Hinkie managed to insert himself into yet another trade, allowing him to acquire his one-hundredth second round pick, an important milestone for him.

Maduabum isn’t an NBA prospect, so the trade is really just Philadelphia taking on Anthony’s salary in return for that second round pick. Even better, the Sixers save about $1.5 million because they’re now over the salary floor thanks to Anthony.

The best thing of all is that Anthony’s $2.5 million salary in 2016-17 is fully unguaranteed, giving Hinkie flexibility that will allow him to make advantageous trades in the offseason.

This deal isn’t important enough to warrant effusive praise for Philadelphia, but it did a good job in using its excess cap space to scoop up extra assets.

Grade: A

Houston Rockets

This trade was a coup from Daryl Morey. He managed to turn a couple of unused players he was unwilling to pay into a first round pick. Sure, it’s not going to be a high pick, but even a pick in the teens is plenty valuable, especially since the draftee will be on a dirt cheap rookie contract.

The Rockets also managed to escape paying the luxury tax by giving the Sixers a second rounder, saving them millions of dollars.

Foisting a couple of unwanted players onto Detroit and receiving a first round pick and millions of dollars in savings in return is a job well done by Houston.

Grade: A+

Trade Grade: Harris to Detroit

Earlier today, news broke that Orlando had traded Tobias Harris to Detroit in exchange for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.

Detroit Pistons

This trade immediately turns the Pistons into long-term Eastern Conference contenders. No, they’re nowhere near even an NBA Finals run, but this trade gives them a great shot at a playoff series victory or two if they can vault up past the eighth seed to avoid Cleveland in the first round.

It’s not like what happens this season matters that much. If Detroit wins a playoff series, great! If it wins two, even better! The best thing about this trade is that it’s not some insane win-now move for a team that won’t win anything; it’ll help the Pistons a ton in the future.

Ilyasova and Jennings, 28 and 26 respectively, are veterans. Ilyasova is signed for the rest of this year and has an unguaranteed salary in 2016-17 while Jennings is on an expiring contract. Neither of those two guys will be around for very long.

Harris, on the other hand, is in the first season of a four year, sixty-four million dollar contract. It seems like a lot of money, and it is, but thanks to the rapidly rising salary cap, sixteen million dollars a year isn’t much to spend on a player like Harris.

Best of all, Harris is 23 years old. The other players worth keeping the Pistons have are all at similar ages: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 22, Stanley Johnson is 19, Andre Drummond is 22, and at 25, Reggie Jackson is the elder statesman of the bunch. Together, these five players form a rapidly improving core and will be in their primes at roughly the same time.

Harris is a tweener, and toggles between each forward position. When he plays power forward, the other four members of the core are able to play as well; when he plays small forward, Marcus Morris can play at the four. Either way, there should be plenty of minutes freed up for him, especially with Ilyasova’s 27.6 minutes at power forward now gone.

Detroit has acquired a 23-year old player who’s already a solid starter and is locked into a cap-friendly deal for the next three seasons. All it had to give up to get him were a couple of veterans who didn’t fit the team’s timeline for contention. Overall, this was a coup for the Pistons.

Grade: A

Orlando Magic

It’s tough to see what Rob Hennigan was thinking here.

As we discussed above, Ilyasova and Jennings are veterans without upside and with no guaranteed money beyond this season. Harris, on the other hand, is a twenty-three year old oozing with upside, and is signed for three more seasons.

Remember what we said earlier about Harris fitting in with Detroit’s core age-wise? Yeah, he fits even better with Orlando’s: Victor Oladipo is 23, Elfrid Payton turns 22 next week, Mario Hezonja is 20, Evan Fournier is 23, Nikola Vucevic is 25, and Aaron Gordon is 20.

Harris could have grown and matured alongside a core that is under Orlando’s control for at least another season and a half. In the NBA, continuity is priceless, as we’ve seen with elite teams like the Warriors and Spurs. In the present day climate, with increasingly short contracts, continuity is elusive, and the Magic, for some strange reason, decided to give up a big part of theirs.

And what did they give him up for? Almost nothing! At best, Jennings and Ilyasova are “veteran mentors” who can “show the youngsters how to win”. The only problem with that explanation is that Jennings and Ilyasova have been on winning teams only once apiece, on the 2009-10 Bucks team that won a grand total of forty-six games.

Speaking of that team, interestingly enough, it was coached by none other than Scott Skiles, who also happens to currently coach the Magic.

Anyways, if Ilyasova and Jennings aren’t particularly good, and if they don’t have much experience winning, and if they won’t be around long-term, then why in the world would Orlando trade for them?

This deal seems a lot like a win-now move, except that Orlando is worsening its future while worsening its current team too. One other problem with this win-now move? The Magic currently sit in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 23-29. To make the playoffs, they’d have to vault over three teams, including the Pistons, just to get the eighth seed, where they’ll promptly be slaughtered by Cleveland in the first round.

The single possible benefit for the Magic in this trade is acquiring Ilyasova’s unguaranteed contract for 2016-17. In the offseason, they’ll be able to trade Ilyasova to a cap-starved team and pick up an asset for their help as a cap-declogger. However, the asset that they receive in return for Ilyasova is unlikely to be anywhere near as valuable as Harris is.

Again, there’s little upside to this deal, and a ton of downside. The Magic aren’t winning now, but this trade hurts their chances at winning in the future.

Unless there’s something about Harris that the public doesn’t know, this trade was a grave mistake for the Magic.

Grade: D

Thanksgiving Picks for DFS and Against the Spread

Thanksgiving is a fine American tradition. The turkey, the family reunions, and the annual football game you play with your cousins that ends almost immediately when the rotund Cousin Dave claims he’s “cramping up”. Of course, the best tradition of them all is the ever-present football game on the TV that’s a perfect excuse to escape your Aunt Edna’s smothering hugs.

In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s break down today’s games and in the true spirit of America, let’s do so from a gambler’s perspective.

(Home team in caps)

LIONS -2.5 over Eagles

Honestly, it’s amazing that it’s taken this long for Vegas to sour on the rapidly imploding Eagles. Last week they were somehow giving seven points against Tampa Bay. Yeah, the Bucs aren’t a spectacular team, but when was Philly even a solid team this season? Their best two games came against the Saints and the Giants, two teams that aren’t particularly good. Two weeks ago, they somehow needed overtime to beat a Cowboys team that was led by Matt Cassel. Need I say more?

Panthers +1 over DALLAS

Here’s a strange looking line: the undefeated Panthers getting a point against a 3-7 team. However, once you look at it a little more closely, the line starts to make a little more sense. For one, conventional wisdom states that home field advantage is worth three points, so this line shows that the oddsmakers think that Carolina is the better team by two points. Despite this, it still looks a little off. Again, once you break it down a little further, it makes plenty more sense. The Cowboys may be 3-7 this season, but they’re 3-0 in games started by Tony Romo and 0-7 in games started by the horrendous combination of Cassel and Brandon Weeden. So yeah, I still think the Panthers are the choice in this game, but at least there are clear reasons for Dallas being considered the favorite.

GREEN BAY -8.5 over Chicago

The Packers are looking to lay down the law. After a distressing three-game losing streak which included an embarrassing contest against the Lions, Green Bay demolished the Vikings last week to take back the lead in the NFC North. While the Bears are getting back Matt Forte, the linchpin of their offense, his return won’t help as much as you might think. The guy Forte will be replacing, Jeremy Langford, filled in spectacularly for him during his absence so the star’s return won’t be a massive upgrade. Additionally, Martellus Bennett, the tight end, has already been ruled out for the game, and Alshon Jeffery, the stud wide receiver, is questionable for tonight’s game and has been hobbled all year. The Bears have actually recovered somewhat from their 2-5 start to the season with two wins in their last three games, but on the road in Lambeau Field, the Pack Attack is the choice.

Now, since many state governments have decided that DFS is gambling, let’s proceed with that premise and talk about a few solid Thanksgiving DFS plays on DraftKings.

Jonathan Stewart, at a mere $5200, is one of the best plays of the slate. He’s getting a ton of carries, with a streak of six games and counting with at least twenty carries.

Devin Funchess is another worthy choice. He costs only $3900, and as we discussed in yesterday’s article, he’s becoming a much bigger part of the Carolina offense.

Calvin Johnson and Greg Olsen are the two studs I’d pay up for. Although expensive, both are the only reliable players at their positions.

None of the defensive matchups are appealing, so for your D/ST, why not choose Detroit? Priced at a reasonable $2200, the Lions face a Butt Fumble-led Eagles team which scored seventeen points last week. Sanchez threw in three interceptions for good measure.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, sharing it on social media would be much appreciated, but even if you don’t, good luck in all your gambling endeavors today, enjoy the turkey, and (ready for an awful pun?) thanks(giving) for reading.