Pistons-Heat Preview

Stan Van Gundy isn't usually a coach who shies away from telling it exactly like it is, but it's hard not to look at his take on the Detroit Pistons' playoff hopes as slightly pessimistic.

Barring a collapse, his team is headed for its first postseason appearance in seven years.

That could become a reality by the time the Pistons finish a back-to-back in South Florida, though the Miami Heat will surely have something to say about Tuesday night's first stop as they continue to fight for home-court advantage.

Detroit (41-36) didn't wrap up its first playoff trip since 2008-09 on Saturday in Chicago, but it made things a whole lot easier on itself heading into the final five games. The starters, who provide a league-high 74.9 percent of the Pistons' points, had all but 11 at the United Center in a 94-90 victory over the ninth-place Bulls.

Van Gundy's team is tied with Indiana for the seventh and eighth spots, and while Detroit would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Pacers, Saturday's win gave it the edge on Chicago along with a magic number of three.

"You like being ahead, but until we're in, I'm not the least bit comfortable," the coach told the team's official website. "The way this season has gone? It's up and down. And look who we have to play now."

A visit to Orlando on Wednesday will conclude the Pistons' 19th back-to-back of the season - no team will play more times on consecutive days than their 20 - and with the Bulls traveling to Memphis that night, Detroit could return home as a playoff team should these three results go its way.

"There's nothing easy and we've still got to get more wins," Van Gundy said after Saturday's victory. "I'm happy tonight with the win. It would've been a lot harder with a loss. In fact, it would've been a real uphill battle with a loss. So am I happy tonight? Yeah. But by (Sunday), no. I won't be the least bit comfortable. (Sunday), I'll be grumpy again."

The Heat (44-32) have the Pistons to thank for clinching a spot in the playoffs Saturday - the win in Chicago punched Miami's ticket - but they went out and played like a team with little motivation to wrap up a 1-2 road trip with a 110-93 loss to Portland.

''With this organization, we always have big expectations, that doesn't change from year to year,'' coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''So, getting over that hurdle does mean something to us, but we still have more that we're working on for right now and that's really what we're focused on."

Dwyane Wade missed the final two games on the trip with back and neck injuries suffered in Wednesday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, though he said he was feeling better prior to the game in Portland.

Miami still has plenty to play for as part of a four-team cluster separated by a half-game that's battling for the third and fourth spots in the Eastern Conference.

Assuming Wade plays, the Heat could certainly use more than he gave them in the first two games this season against Detroit. Wade was held to two points in a 104-81 loss Nov. 25 - his lowest total ever in at least 20 minutes - and then shot 8 of 21 in a 93-92 home defeat Dec. 22.

A chunk of the credit for those wins goes to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope despite an ugly 7-for-28 shooting line. He hit the winning 3-pointer in the final minute of the December victory, and held Heat players to 6-of-24 shooting between the two games when he was the primary defender - which he often was on Wade.

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