Late push for NBA playoffs looks difficult

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The 2023-24 NBA season might be a noteworthy one for the Detroit Pistons franchise.

Of course, there’s nowhere to go but up following a disappointing 17-65 campaign. But there’s positive momentum heading into this season. The team has a new head coach in Monty Williams and two 2023 first-round picks in Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser. Oh, and Cade Cunningham will return after playing just 12 games last year due to shin surgery.

There are glimmers of hope, and fans will get their first opportunity to watch the new iteration of the team when they host the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 28. They’ll open the season on the road, against the Miami Heat on Oct. 25. Here are some other highlights for the upcoming season after Thursday’s schedule release.

Lone national TV game a budding rival

Jan. 12 will be a marquee date. It’ll feature the Pistons’ lone non-NBA TV national game of the season, when they host the Houston Rockets at Little Caesars Arena. A rivalry has formed between the teams’ respective fanbases, dating back to when Cade Cunningham faced 2021 draft classmate Jalen Green during that year’s summer league. Both teams have since made additional moves that will add more fuel to that rivalry.

Pistons forward Ausar Thompson brings the ball up the court in the second half of the 113-101 loss to the Rockets in the NBA Summer League on Sunday, July 9, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Pistons forward Ausar Thompson brings the ball up the court in the second half of the 113-101 loss to the Rockets in the NBA Summer League on Sunday, July 9, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Two rookies from the 2023 class will also be in the spotlight, as fifth overall pick Ausar Thompson will face his twin brother, fourth overall pick Amen. Both the Pistons and Rockets are stocked with young talent, as Detroit has eight players 22-years-old or younger and Houston has six.

It won’t be the first game between the Thompson Twins, as the Pistons will travel to Houston on Jan. 1.

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Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas was packed last month when French phenom, and 2023 first overall pick Victor Wembanyama, made his summer league debut. It’s fair to expect he’ll pack NBA arenas as well.

The 7-foot-4 big man will make his lone trip to Detroit on Jan. 10, giving fans an opportunity to see him up close. It’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting weeks of the Pistons’ schedule, as they will host the Rockets two days prior.

NBA’s in-season tournament debuts

By now, you’re probably aware that the NBA will debut its In-Season Tournament in a few months. The Pistons will play four contests during the opening “Group Play” round, hosting the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 10 and 14, respectively, before hitting the road to play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 17 and Indiana Pacers Nov. 24.

If the Pistons finish with the best record in their group (or one of the two-best records out of teams that finished second), they’ll qualify for the “Knockout Round” which will feature quarterfinals games on Dec. 4 and 5, a semifinal round (Dec. 7) and championship (Dec. 9).

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Pistons to face difficult final stretch

If the Pistons are in the running for a play-in game late in the season, they’ll have a difficult path.

Nine of their final 11 games of the season will be played on the road. The stretch will include a three-game swing against the New York Knicks (March 25), Minnesota Timberwolves (March 27) and Washington Wizards (March 29) before returning home for a contest against the Memphis Grizzlies on April 1.

Detroit will then hit the road again, facing the Hawks (April 3), Grizzlies (April 5), Brooklyn Nets (April 6) and Sixers (April 9), before hosting the Bulls on April 11. The Pistons will then finish their season with away games against the Dallas Mavericks (April 12) and Spurs (April 14).

It’ll be balanced out by a home-heavy March featuring a six-game homestand from March 7-17. They’ll then play a lone road game against the Boston Celtics on March 18 before playing three consecutive home games against the Pacers (March 20), Celtics (March 22) and New Orleans Pelicans (March 24).

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons schedule 2023-24 highlights: Difficult final stretch