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No team in last 15 years made playoffs after trailing eighth seed by more than 3.5 games at All-Star break; Pistons sit 4.5 out

Since the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies entered the league for the 1995-96 season, 183 teams trailed the eighth seed at the All-Star break.* Seventeen of those teams made the playoffs (9.3 percent). None of those teams sat more than 3.5 games out at the break.

Two days after the All-Star game, the Pistons trail the Pacers, who currently hold the eighth seed, by 4.5 games.

*Due to the lockout, the NBA didn’t hold an All-Star game in 1999.

So, when Tayshaun Prince said making the playoffs is “pretty much impossible,” he’s pretty much right. I still don’t excuse him in the slightest for saying that. Evaluating the appropriateness of that statement has absolutely nothing to do with its accuracy. But that’s a different topic for a different time.

The matter at hand is how difficult to it is to make the playoffs when not already slotted for the postseason at the All-Star break. The last team to reach the playoffs after trailing the eighth seed by more than 3.5 games at the break was the 1994-95 Denver Nuggets, who overcame a 5.5-game deficit.

Since then, here are the teams who made the playoffs after placing outside the top eight in their conference at the All-Star break:

Year Team Games back
2005 Denver Nuggets 3.5
1997 Phoenix Suns 3.5
2005 New Jersey Nets 3
1997 Washington Bullets 3
2006 Sacramento Kings 2.5
2009 Chicago Bulls 2
2007 New Jersey Nets 2
2006 Chicago Bulls 2
2001 Phoenix Suns 2
2003 Los Angeles Lakers 1.5
2010 Milwaukee Bucks 1
2007 Golden State Warriors 1
2004 Miami Heat 1
1996 Miami Heat 1
2003 Orlando Magic 0.5
2002 Indiana Pacers 0.5
2001 Indiana Pacers 0.5

This isn’t entirely surprising. By the All-Star break, most teams have already established themselves. Even if an outlier team is better than its record, it must be significantly better than its record in order to overcome the deficit.

If the Pistons make the playoffs, they’ll became the first team since the NBA expanded to 29 teams 15 years ago to do so after trailing the eighth seed at the All-Star break by at least four games.

How likely are the Pistons to meet that historic challenge?

Not very.

I’ll ignore that arguably the team’s best player doesn’t think they can do it. Based on this group’s past results, they don’t stand a chance.

As Terry Foster of The Detroit News pointed out in his column today, the Pacers are on pace to win 36 games. For the Pistons to match that, they’d have to finish the season with 15 wins in 25 games.

They went 11-14 in their best 25-game stretch this season. They went 11-14 in their best 25-game stretch last season, too. The Pistons haven’t had a 15-10 stretch in more than 25 months, when Allen Iverson and Amir Johnson were starting for Detroit.

Plus, a 15-10 stretch doesn’t necessarily get the Pistons into the playoffs. That assumes the streaking Pacers don’t exceed their current pace. That assumes Detroit wins the tiebreaker over Indiana. That assumes the the Bobcats and Bucks, the two teams between the Pistons and Pacers, don’t pass Indiana, too.

For the Pistons to make the playoffs, they’d have to significantly surpass their own previous performances, and they’d have to improve in a way no other NBA team has in the last 15 years.

Pretty much impossible.


  • Feb 22, 201110:03 am
    by Tom Y.


    The playoffs aren’t happening for this team and I hope when Dumars talks about keeping players for a playoffs run or making a trade for players who’d help us make a run this year he’s lying – otherwise we’re really screwed. (ok, we’re screwed anyway but I’d rather think he’s lying)
    What I’m more concerned about is at least keeping our 7th worst record – I don’t think we could catch anyone for the 6th worst but I’m worried Milwaukee is going to tank lower than us.

  • Feb 22, 201110:22 am
    by nuetes


    Exactly the Pistons can’t suck worse than the first 6 teams. I feel like that gap is already too big. Making the playoffs is unrealistic, and I’d have to assume some of those teams that have closed the gap either benefited from a deadline deal, or a player of their own getting healthy down the stretch. The Pistons have neither of those possibilities, and it would probably take Howard, Paul, or Lebron to get this team to the playoffs if that were the case.

  • Feb 22, 20111:25 pm
    by Fennis


    DF: Tay didn’t say that it was impossible to make the playoffs. He said it was impossible to win 15 or 16 games. He added that if they need to win 15 or 16 games to win the playoffs they wouldn’t get there. I don’t think either statement is acceptable, but your version is much worse than what was actually said.

  • Feb 22, 20112:03 pm
    by BIG MARV


    The only way the Pistons make the playoffs is they have to throw away the playbook and start running and gunning and they have the personell to do it because I seen them do it aganst the pacers. Another thing they gotta do is put the “locker room” “off the court” drama behind and if you dont trade rip or tay you have to keep them heavy in the rotation. I think its too much for them to overcome kuster is too stubbron to change over for the players and the players are stubbron to listen to kuester right now. so the chances of them making the playoffs are slim-none. I just want to see for the next 26 whatever games is to see exciting playoff type basketball, don’t worry about the playoffs or drama play hard get on some winning streaks and end the season with some kind of pride.

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