THE Detroit Pistons clinched the final ticket to the NBA playoffs on Wednesday, sealing their first postseason berth since 2016 with a 115-89 defeat of the New York Knicks.
With Eastern Conference rivals the Charlotte Hornets losing to the Orlando Magic elsewhere in Wednesday’s final round of regular season games, the Pistons would have advanced regardless of their result against the Knicks.
But the result against the team with the worst record in the NBA this season was never in doubt as Detroit moved into the lead before pulling away for a comfortable win.
Luke Kennard scored 27 points off the bench for Detroit, while starters Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson delivered 20-point displays to lead the Pistons into the postseason.
Drummond finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds while Jackson had 21 points and seven assists.
Detroit’s reward for claiming the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference is a first round playoff duel with the Milwaukee Bucks.
The result also represented vindication of sorts for head coach Dwane Casey, who has led the Pistons back to the postseason in his first year.
Casey, who was harshly fired by the Toronto Raptors last year despite a 59-win season, said his Detroit rebuilding plan was ahead of schedule.
“We’re still in the growth process,” Casey said afterwards. “We’re ahead of the curve. This is the first step for us, for our young guys to experience the playoffs and to understand what it takes to get there and hopefully make some noise.
“It’s a great first step for our organisation and our fans. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not where we were.”
Hornets stung by Magic
In Charlotte, meanwhile, Kemba Walker exploded for 43 points in vain as the Hornets slender playoff chances ended with a defeat to Orlando.
Walker’s superb display was backed with 22 points from Jeremy Lamb and 18 points from Miles Bridges.
The Magic however ran out 122-114 winners with Terrence Ross scoring 35 points from the bench in 29 minutes.
Ross’ points tally included a red-hot spell from three-point distance, with the 28-year-old small forward making six of 10 attempts from three-point range.
Aaron Gordon added 27 points while DJ Augustin (18) and Evan Fournier (14) also cracked double digits.
Seventh-seeded Orlando will face the second-ranked Toronto Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs.
In New York, Dwyane Wade signed off from the NBA with a fifth career triple-double as the already-eliminated Miami Heat closed their season with a 113-94 loss to the playoff-bound Brooklyn Nets.
Wade, who had been given a gala send-off on Tuesday in his final home appearance in Miami, finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the defeat.
There was a double-digit farewell for another NBA icon in San Antonio, where Dallas Mavericks German veteran Dirk Nowitzki finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mavericks, who finished outside the playoff places, were beaten 105-94 by the Spurs, the seventh seeds from the Western Conference.