March 28, 2017
While Pistons wave the white towel,
Red Wings show self-respect & pride
By KEITH GAVE
“April in the D” is going to be awfully boring this year.
The life of the party for the past 25 seasons won’t be playing after their final regular season on April 9 against New Jersey, the last game they will ever play at Joe Louis Arena. There will be no Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
Until last weekend, there was a glimmer of hope that the Pistons would make the NBA playoffs for the second straight season after six years of failing to qualify for the post-season. But they waived the white flag rather convincingly in a pathetic 115-87 loss at Orlando, one of the worst teams in the NBA, followed by Monday night’s 109-95 loss to the woeful Knickerbockers in New York.
Note to Pistons: It’s OK to tank in order to move down in the standings and improve your draft position; it’s an accepted practice in the NBA. Just try not to make it look so obvious.
A couple of weeks ago, the Pistons were competing for sixth in the Eastern Conference. The losing skid two games out of eighth. If this continues, and there’s no indication that it won’t, their final game at The Palace of Auburn Hills will be on April 10. Two days later, their season will end at Orlando. They can stay and play in Disney World, watch the NBA playoffs with Mickey Mouse.
The Wings and Pistons seem to have distinctly different strategies in the final few weeks of their seasons. The Pistons’ loss Monday was their fourth straight The Wings, meantime, played their fourth straight overtime Monday, winning 4-3 at Carolina on Andreas Athanasiou’s second game-winning overtime goal in as many games. Detroit is now 5-1-1 in its last seven games.
But here’s the thing: The differing strategies make perfect sense for both teams. If you’re the Pistons, why struggle to just make the playoffs, finish eighth and get swept in the opening round of the tournament by Cleveland and then settle for a middle of the pack draft pick – 15th or 16th overall?
Indeed, by all accounts this is a loaded draft, especially at the top end of the first round. On Monday, the Pistons ranked 19th overall among the NBA’s 30 teams, which would qualify them for the 12th overall pick. A decent little losing streak down the stretch and 22nd overall is perfectly within reach.
That would give them a Top 9 pick. The quality of players available is exponentially better. All Stan Van Gundy has to do is pick the right guy. Then find a coach capable of communicating with this generation of players. Because it’s painfully obvious that he cannot.
Meantime, pay no attention to all those silly mock NBA drafts already beginning to surface. The so-called experts are missing two important pieces of information: the order in which the teams finish and, more important, which players will be available.
With the NCAA tournament whittled from 68 teams to four, more and more underclassmen, most of them freshmen, are announcing their intentions to leave college for the NBA. (I see you, Miles Bridges). It’s like Christmastime for professional basketball.
The Red Wings, meantime, are choosing a much different route to the end. This was their third OT win in four games. Previously, they won at Montreal and beat Minnesota at The Joe on Sunday.
Monday’s game was rescheduled from earlier in the season when the ice-making capability at Carolina’s PNC Arena went to hell. That forced the Wings into a rare three-games-in-three-nights situation.
Carolina was in one of the most torrid stretches in its history, going 7-0-3 in its previous 10 games to pull into playoff contention. Desperate for points, the ’Canes were no easy opponent. On what surely were tired legs, the Wings refused to buckle. It was an impressive performance.
The result of their recent string of success moved the Wings from 28th overall among the NHL’s 30 teams to 25. It’s not unreasonable to think they could finish 23rd overall. So instead of a top-3 draft pick they could slip to eighth overall.
And. It. Doesn’t. Matter.
Unlike the NBA draft, there is no immediate help among the prospects available in the NHL draft. Unlike the past two years, there are no generational players, no one like Conner McDavid in 2015 or Austen Matthews last year. No one worth tanking for, like Toronto did so artfully last season to get Matthews.
What we’re seeing from these Detroit Red Wings instead is good, hard, honest hockey. They may not reach the playoffs, but they’re making it tough on teams struggling to qualify for the tournament or battling for higher seeds.
What we’re seeing can’t help but make us wonder how the Wings might have fared had they been a bit healthier, especially having Jimmy Howard available all season.
What we’re seeing, albeit a bit too late, is the same kind of pride in this edition of the Detroit Red Wings as all those 25 teams before that helped stitch this most impressive streak together. The players on this team couldn’t care less about draft picks. They’re playing like pros.
Meantime, we prepare to celebrate “April in the D.” Detroit Tigers, you’re on the clock.