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The Detroit Pistons find themselves in the midst of an intense race for one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Detroit (34-37) currently sits in ninth place, one game behind the Miami Heat.
Right behind the Pistons, the Chicago Bulls are two games in back of the Heat and the Charlotte Hornets are 3.5 back.
Detroit went 5-5 over its last ten games, while Miami continues its impressive run and has won seven of ten.
The Pistons have quite a few issues, like a lethargic offense of late, which failed to score 100 points in the last five games, four of which ended in losses.
It wouldn’t be fair to pin all of the blame on one player, but point guard Reggie Jackson has been a subject of scrutiny of fans and writers throughout the season – even more so this week.
Jackson shot 21-for-66 over his last five games (34 percent), and scored eight points or less in three of those games.
He’s never been known for his defense and when he’s not scoring at a high rate, that part of his game is even harder for the Pistons to overcome.
Meanwhile, Ish Smith has continued to serve as one of the best backup point guards in the league.
In Tuesday night’s loss to the last place Brooklyn Nets, Smith was one of the few bright spots, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter and keeping Detroit in the game.
He played crunch time minutes, while Jackson was on the bench.
Naturally, questions arose about potential changes to the lineup.
“We’ll find out tomorrow night,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters following the loss.
Less than an hour before Wednesday night’s tip off in Chicago, news broke that Smith would start for Jackson.
It's official: Ish Smith getting the start at PG for the Pistons.
— Aaron McMann (@AaronMcMann) March 22, 2017
After the loss to the Nets, some of Detroit’s writers had been asking the question: Would starting Smith improve the team’s chances of clinching a playoff spot?
“There’s a risk in doing that,” Van Gundy said earlier this month. “You’re changing the dynamic of both units and, so, if you’re winning games, I guess my first thought is if you’re winning games regardless of how you’re winning them, do you want to change that dynamic and now have both units playing differently when we’re able to hang on and win?
“I mean, you can certainly make a case for it and say, ‘Well, maybe you’d be more solid and win easier.’ But right now things are going pretty well. So, I don’t know that we’ll do that. But certainly it’s something to consider.”
As a starter for 50 games, Jackson is averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 assists and 2.2 rebounds. In 21 starts, Smith is averaging 10.8 points, 6.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds.
It’s been a rough season for Jackson, who began the season coming off a knee injury, failed to get into a groove, and has been inconsistent all year.
Smith hasn’t exactly erupted for eye-popping numbers this season, but has been more efficient and is less of a liability on defense.
Time is of the essence in this playoff race and every win at this point is critical. A loss to the Bulls would also mean the Pistons are tied with Chicago for ninth place.
We’ll see if the lineup change makes a difference and if Van Gundy is committed to this change after Wednesday night’s game.