DETROIT - It's amazing how much 10 days can change a basketball season that lasts six months.
When the Detroit Pistons suffered their eighth straight loss on Jan. 28, getting blown out by 17 points at Cleveland, the season appeared to be over. The team that had started the year 14-6 was gone, and at 22-26, the Pistons were fading farther away from a playoff spot.
But they flipped a switch on Jan. 29. Tired of the monotonous, below-average results that left the Pistons battling toward mediocrity for the better part of the decade, Stan Van Gundy made a big splash, acquiring Blake Griffin from the Clippers.
Whether or not the Griffin deal is a success will be determined over the course of the next four seasons, but there's no denying it's been an immediate breath of fresh air.
Before Griffin even joined his new teammates, they went out and stomped the same Cavaliers they had lost to over the weekend. Since Griffin took the floor in a Pistons jersey, the team is 4-0 with impressive victories over the Heat and Trail Blazers -- both current playoff teams.
Despite losing Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris -- arguably their two best players -- in the trade, the Pistons added someone much more dynamic than either of them.
In four games with Detroit, Griffin is averaging 21.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. A tough shooting night against the Heat (6-19) dropped his overall shooting percentage, but he's still converting at a 42.3 percent clip from the floor.
Griffin is making a difference at the free throw line, too, converting 20 of 24 attempts.
Most importantly, the Pistons finally have a sure-fire go-to player when they really need a basket. When the Nets were making a push in the final stretch Wednesday, Griffin scored nine points in the span of 2 1/2 minutes.
He finished with 11 points and two assists in the final 7:09 of game time.
Others stepping up
The middle months of a long NBA season can be mentally taxing, especially for a team waffling in the middle of the standings. But the Griffin deal breathed new life into the players who were already on the roster.
Andre Drummond was already having the best season of his NBA career -- averaging better than 15 points and 15 rebounds per game while upping his shooting percentages -- but he's stepped it up since the trade.
During the five-game winning streak, Drummond is averaging more than 18 points and 20 rebounds per game. He's converted on 58 percent of his free-throw attempts, and despite a 5-17 game against the Nets, he's shooting 64 percent from the field.
He's also chipped in 18 assists, 13 blocks and 14 steals during the streak.
Much more shocking than the Drummond surge has been the contributions from Stanley Johnson.
Through the first 2 1/2 seasons of his career, Johnson hasn't given the Pistons much solid production. In nearly 200 games, Johnson is averaging 6.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 36.8 percent overall and 29.3 percent from beyond the arc.
But Johnson has been much better since the trade. He played the best game of his career before Griffin arrived, dropping 26 on the Cavaliers on 10-21 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.
In the last five games, Johnson is averaging 16 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He's shooting 45.6 percent from the floor.
Several others -- such as Ish Smith, Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver have flourished in increased roles.
Though the Pistons are currently on a hot streak and sit in a tie for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, there are three ways the rest of the year can go.
The worst-case scenario for the Pistons would be that the initial burst of energy from the trade wears off, and the current winning streak gives way to another uninspiring month of basketball. There's no way the Pistons can fall below the four worst teams in the conference, so in this scenario, Detroit would miss the playoffs and lose its first-round draft pick -- which was traded in the Griffin deal.
Perhaps the most likely scenario is that the Pistons settle into a middle ground -- neither as bad as they were before the Griffin trade nor as good as they've been since. If this happens, the Pistons could end up with the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the East, which would probably result in a first-round exit against Boston or Toronto.
The best-case scenario is that the Pistons are actually very good with Griffin, and climb the Eastern Conference ladder to a much better playoff seed. Shockingly, the Pistons are only four games behind the Cavaliers for the No. 3 seed and a possible division title.
While that obviously seems very unlikely, the Pistons don't have to be spectacular to get a better seed. They've already had losing streaks of seven and eight games this season, yet one more good week could put them in the No. 4 or No. 5 slot.
Van Gundy knows the Eastern Conference is stacked with mediocre teams, and a superstar such as Griffin can be enough to put a team in contention.
The Pistons have four more games before the All-Star break, three of which are at home and two of which are against Atlanta -- the worst team in the league. Detroit needs to continue its winning ways before a tough couple of weeks following the break.
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