DETROIT – As a team trying to dig its way out of a big hole, every game is important for the Detroit Pistons. But Friday's showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers will have a little extra spice.
Before pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Clippers, the Pistons had fallen four games below .500 and well out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
On Jan. 29, Stan Van Gundy pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and a first-round pick to the Clippers for Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed.
Since the trade
Since making the deal, the Pistons are 5-0, a game over .500 and tied for the No. 8 seed. Griffin has led the team to four straight victories.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are enjoying some success of their own, albeit not on the same level. They've played twice since the trade, beating the 18-35 Bulls and the 17-38 Mavericks at home.
Harris made an immediate impact for his new team, scoring 24 points on 10-19 shooting in the Clippers' win. Bradley scored just eight points in 32 minutes.
Harris took 20 shots in the win over Chicago, scoring 19 points. Bradley went 6-10 for 12 points, the Clippers outscored the Bulls by 13 points during his 27 minutes on the court.
Marjanovic hasn't recorded any stats in the two games.
In four games with Detroit, Griffin is averaging 21.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. He's shooting 42.3 percent from the floor.
Reed and Johnson were only in Detroit for about a week. During Thursday's NBA trade deadline madness, Van Gundy quietly flipped Reed to Chicago for Jameer Nelson and sent Johnson to Memphis for James Ennis.
Where they stand
The Pistons and Clippers are very similar in terms of record and the standings, but they've taken nearly opposite roads to get there.
Detroit won 14 of its first 20 games and sat near the top of the Eastern Conference before seven- and eight-game losing streaks dropped them out of the postseason picture.
Los Angeles got off to a slow start, losing 15 of its first 23 games before ripping off a 15-6 stretch to get back in the mix.
Even though they took different paths, the two teams are nearly identical in overall performance. The Pistons are 27-26 while the Clippers are 27-25. The Pistons are tied with the No. 8 seed in the East while the Clippers are a half-game behind the No. 8 seed in the West.
A two-game winning streak could lift the Clippers as high as the No. 5 seed in the West, while a three-game winning streak could lift the Pistons as high as the No. 4 seed in the East.
Both teams are currently on the outside looking in (the Pistons are technically percentage points behind Philadelphia for the No. 8 seed), but a few more wins would greatly improve their standing.
The stakes are obviously high, which only adds to the importance of Friday night's game.
As inter-conference foes, the Pistons and Clippers only meet twice per season. They already met in Los Angeles, when the Pistons escaped the Staples Center with a big road victory.
It was the second of three consecutive big wins (Minnesota, Los Angeles and Golden State) for the Pistons in late October. The Clippers were 4-0 -- the last undefeated team in the Western Conference -- when they hosted the 3-2 Pistons.
Despite getting dominated by 13 points in the second quarter and trailing by 10 at halftime, the Pistons rolled to an eight-point win.
Harris and Bradley scored 12 points apiece for the Pistons, and Griffin went just 5-18 from the floor, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
This game is critical to both teams for several reasons. Not only will Griffin, Harris, Bradley and Marjanovich play against their former teams, it's also a chance to build on the momentum for both teams following the trade.
The rest of the season will go one of three ways for the Pistons. They'll continue their surge and get a higher seed in the playoffs, taper off and receive a low seed or crumble and miss the postseason altogether.
Friday is just one game, but there's a lot on the line. Both teams want the same thing and, unlike in last week's trade, only one will get it.