Pistons making progress at midway point of regular season

By NOAH TRISTER | January 19, 2016 | 7:31 PM EST

FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2015, file photo, Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy gives instructions against the Indiana Pacers in the first half of an NBA basketball game, in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Detroit Pistons are off to a good start in their attempt to return to the playoffs, but coach Stan Van Gundy says they have a long way to go. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — The Palace was packed all the way to its highest seats, and fans were roaring for Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and the core of Detroit's 2004 championship team.

They were cheering for the 2016 Pistons, too, as they upset Golden State in a surprising rout.

"That was what was most fun for me — seeing and hearing this building like I remember it in our years here," Billups said. "The energy in the building was phenomenal."

That 113-95 win over the Warriors last weekend showed how much this Detroit team has improved, and now the challenge for the Pistons is to play well enough on a consistent basis that fans will flock to their Auburn Hills arena more often. Detroit hasn't made the playoffs since 2009, but as of Tuesday morning, the Pistons were tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 22-19 record at the regular season's halfway point.

The race for the postseason is jumbled right now in the East, with Detroit only three games ahead of 12th-place Charlotte. The Pistons may not have much margin for error if they want to make the playoffs and draw more big crowds to the Palace. Saturday's game against Golden State included a halftime ceremony to retire Wallace's number, and some of his most popular former teammates were also on hand — but this season's Pistons certainly did their part to contribute to the raucous atmosphere.

"I mean, come on, that's a pretty good win," owner Tom Gores said a couple days later. "So I think we're doing good, and honestly, the best thing about it is the tone that's being set. These players are good players, they have a very nice chemistry, and they are team-first."

The Pistons are only 10 wins short of their total for all of last season. The presence of center Andre Drummond makes them one of the best rebounding teams in the league, and point guard Reggie Jackson is averaging 19.4 points and 6.6 assists per game.

Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are both capable of an occasional big night offensively, and coach Stan Van Gundy is pleased with his team's performance at the other end.

"I think we've improved defensively. One, because of some of the guys we brought in, and two, guys are a year older," said Van Gundy, who is also Detroit's team president. "We're still one of the sixth- or seventh-youngest teams in the league."

The Pistons certainly didn't look like a veteran team two days after beating Golden State. Detroit lost 111-101 to Chicago, losing their cool in the second half. Detroit was called for three technical fouls in the third quarter, and Caldwell-Pope was ejected after picking up two of them.

The Pistons are in the middle of a tough stretch in the schedule. The game against Golden State was their only win of their last four — they lost to San Antonio and Memphis before that.

Detroit plays seven of its next nine on the road, starting at Houston on Wednesday night, and of the two home games in that stretch, one is against LeBron James and Cleveland.

If the Pistons are still among the top eight teams in the East when they get to mid-March, they'll be in pretty good shape. There's a stretch of nine straight home games beginning March 16.

"There's still going to be a lot of ups and downs, but I don't think there's any doubt that we're on the right path and making progress," Van Gundy said. "There's also no doubt that there's still a long, long way to go."

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