The Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons are all but certain to continue their playoff droughts. Wednesday night's matchup in Detroit could essentially serve as a knockout game for both clubs.
The Cavaliers (28-44) have closed within 4 1/2 games of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, while Detroit (26-44) is one game behind them. Cleveland is trying to avoid missing out on postseason play for a fourth straight year, while the Pistons haven't qualified since 2009.
Cleveland has been without Kyrie Irving for its last five games due to a strained biceps tendon, but has won two straight after Tuesday's 102-100 home victory over fourth-place Toronto. The Cavaliers, led by 24 points from Dion Waiters, squandered a 21-point lead in the third quarter but ultimately recovered.
"It was a good win by our guys," coach Mike Brown said. "That's a playoff team. They were playing good basketball. In a game like that, maybe earlier in the season we might have lost, especially coming down the stretch when a team makes a run against us. Our guys found a way to win."
Waiters is averaging 25.5 points over his last four games while shooting 50.6 percent. He's also averaging 5.3 assists during that stretch after previously averaging 2.8 on the season. However, Waiters has just 26 points over three career matchups with Detroit.
He may have to continue to shoulder a bigger scoring load, as Brown said Irving is "closer" to a return without offering a definitive date.
Detroit has lost 15 of 19 but shot a season-high 55.4 percent from the field in a 114-94 win over the Jazz on Monday. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe combined for 37 points and 25 rebounds and helped the Pistons record 54 points in the paint and snap a 10-game losing streak at Utah. Detroit's 52.6 points in the paint per game are the most in the NBA.
"We were both aggressive. We moved around trying to get second shots," Monroe said. "And we did a good job being patient."
Drummond, who was 9 of 10 from the floor and is 22 for 29 over his last three games, is shooting 62.3 percent on the season, trailing only DeAndre Jordan. He's averaging 19.7 points and 13.0 rebounds over his last three games versus Cleveland.
"We just took what their defense gave us. We were able to move the ball around, we were making shots and we made everybody look good tonight," said Brandon Jennings, who was 6 of 9 with 15 points. He had shot 28.2 percent over his previous four contests and has shot 26.3 percent or worse in four of five against the Cavaliers.
These clubs split two earlier meetings, with each team winning on the road. Tristan Thompson was 12 of 16 with 25 points and 15 rebounds in a 93-89 win at Detroit on Feb. 12, ending Cleveland's seven-game skid in the series. The Pistons' starting backcourt of Jennings and Kyle Singler were 5 of 23 from the floor.
Jennings, though, had 21 points and 13 assists in a 115-92 win at Cleveland on Dec. 23.