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No matter how it ends, this season will go down as the true breakout year for Andre Drummond.
Whether it ends with the Pistons crashing the Eastern Conference playoff party or with coach Stan Van Gundy’s team coming close, Drummond’s position as one of the league’s best big men (dinosaurs in this day and age) will be solidified.
In February, he earned the first of what could and should be many All-Star nods. Drummond will finish this season as the NBA leader in rebounds (14.9) and double-doubles (59). If he can lift the Pistons into the playoffs, it’ll punctuate his arrival.
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All-Star Top 10: Andre Drummond
Check out the top 10 plays from Eastern Conference All-Star Andre Drummond!
He’s surging at the perfect time for a Pistons team that has won four straight games as they host the Charlotte Hornets Jerseys tonight (7:30 ET, NBA TV), a game critical to their playoff chances.
The Pistons are 38-34 and 1½ games ahead of their Central Division rival, Chicago, for No. 8 and trail the No. 7 Indiana Pacers Jerseys by ½-game.
They play six of their final 10 games at the The Palace of Auburn Hills, including four straight starting tonight. The table is set for them to end the franchise’s six-season playoff drought, if they can keep the momentum going.
“You’re going to have to finish this up really strong against very good competition to get in,” Van Gundy said. “The good part is, if you do, you’ll get in. If we get in, we’ll get in playing really good basketball, because there is no other way to do this.”
There’s no way to do it without yeoman’s work from Drummond. They need him to continue to dominate around the basket on both ends of the floor the way he has recently.
Drummond Wins The Game
Andre Drummond tips it in off the missed 3-point attempt to win the game against the Bucks.
His tip-in with two seconds to play lifted the Pistons to a 92-91 over Milwaukee Monday night. Drummond was at his best when it mattered most, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds in the fourth quarter.
He grabbed six offensive rebounds that night, none more important than the last one, finishing the game with 14 points and 16 rebounds.
He was even better in Wednesday’s blowout win over the Orlando Magic Jerseys, scoring 30 points (his second highest scoring game of the season) to go along with 14 rebounds and two blocks.
The Magic’s strategy was to foul Drummond, a 36 percent free throw shooter, and make him earn his keep there. But that plan went up in smoke.
Drummond made 14 of his 20 shots from the floor and only attempted three free throws.
“Our guys knew that if Drummond got the ball inside, and it wasn’t on a lob, we were supposed to foul him,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “Instead, we just let him finish at the rim all night.”
Drummond’s free throw shooting remains an issue. And Van Gundy hasn’t let up on repeated public requests for Drummond to play with more energy and effort, particularly on the defensive end. He benched Drummond in the third quarter against the Bucks for not bringing it at the desired level.
“I thought he played a lot better in the fourth quarter,” Van Gundy told reporters after the game. “I just didn’t think he was bringing us any in energy in the third quarter … I would like to see our starters take more responsibility in terms of energy and intensity.”
If the Pistons have any chance to cement their status as a playoff team this season, they’ll need every ounce of the energy and intensity they can get out of their 6-foo-11, 290-pound behemoth.
This week’s Top 10 in the Kia Race to the MVP:
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Kia Awards: Stephen Curry
Steph Curry is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month.
Just when you think the grind of the chase and his superhuman season has finally caught up to him, Curry cranks it back up after a two-game shooting slump. He shot just 4-for-18 in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs and then followed that up with a 6-for-17 effort in Monday’s win over Minnesota, managing a combined 33 points (and shooting 3-for-21 from deep) in those games. But the league’s leading scorer bounced back with a 33-point showcase (12-for-23 shooting overall and 4-for-10 on 3-pointers) in Wednesday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers. As the regular season winds down and the Warriors continue their pursuit of a 73-win campaign, Curry’s hold on the No. 1 spot couldn’t be tighter.
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Durant Dominates Jazz
Kevin Durant scores 20 points and adds 9 assists with 8 boards as the Thunder take down the Jazz 113-91.
Durant is working on a streak of his own right now. He’s piled up 57 straight games (and counting) where he’s scored 20 or more points, the best such stretch of his career. He’s on a short list the includes Michael Jordan (twice, 72 and 69), Kobe Bryant (63) and Allen Iverson (57). Durant’s consistency comes at the perfect time for a Thunder team that has won six straight games, their best stretch since mid-January. They also reached the 50-win plateau with 10 more games to play in 2015-16. And Durant is doing it all down the stretch, averaging 26 points, 9.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, one block and one steal in his last five games.
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Lebron Stars vs. Nets
LeBron James scores 30 points on 13-16 shooting with six boards, five dimes and a steal versus Brooklyn.
The drama never seems to end for James and the Cavaliers, a team that couldn’t figure out the lowly Brooklyn Nets Thursday night. LeBron’s been productive, as always, but his team is clearly struggling through something of an identity crisis. A blowout loss to Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat Jerseys didn’t help matters. And even when LeBron puts on a brilliant show — like the 33-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double he dropped in Monday’s win over Denver — the foolishness still finds its way to the Cleveland locker room. While all the talk this week has centered around LeBron’s desire to one day play with the “Brotherhood” (Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul), the focus needs to be on the band of brothers on his current roster.
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Leonard Drops 32 Points On Heat
Highlights from Kawhi Leonard’s 32 point performance versus the Heat on Wednesday night.
Leonard torched the Miami Heat Jerseys for 32 points in just 24 minutes Wednesday, exiting the game early with a right quad contusion. If he wasn’t on coach Gregg Popovich’s maintenance plan hot list, he is now. The Spurs cannot take any chances with the health if their best player with the playoffs on the horizon. And if you want a reminder of just how devastating and versatile Leonard’s game has become this season, watch his work from last Saturday’s win over the Golden State Warriors (18 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks) or the win over the Heat (12-for-21 shooting, 3-for-7 on 3-pointers, eight rebounds, one block and one steal). Leonard should be a lock for his second straight Kia Defensive Player of the Year award.
5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week’s ranking: No. 5
Westbrook Torments Rockets
Russell Westbrook notches his third consecutive triple-double scoring 21 points with 15 assists and 12 rebounds to charge the Thunder over the Rockets.
Mr. triple-double took the night off from his usual ways in the Thunder’s win over Utah Thursday night, finishing with 15 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals. He put that line up after collecting three straight triple-doubles in wins over Philadelphia, Indiana and Houston. Westbrook is making the triple-double routine this season, leading the league in that category (15), the most any player has piled up in one season since Magic Johnson had 17 and Michael Jordan 15 during the 1988-89 season. He has six this month and could catch Jordan, who had seven in April of 1989 — the most by a player in a calendar month. It seems laughable now that some questioned whether or not he would develop into the all-around force he has become.
6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Last week’s ranking: No. 6
Paul Solid As Clippers Nip Blazers
Chris Paul scores 25 and J.J. Redick hits the game winning buzzer beater as the Clippers top the Trail Blazers 96-94.
J.J. Redick played the role of hero for the Clippers with a buzzer-beating jumper to top the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday night, but it was Paul and Jamal Crawford who made those last-second heroics possible. Paul was outstanding, as he been consistently this season, finishing with 25 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go along with his seven assists and five rebounds. The win snapped a three-game losing streak, one of the Clippers’ roughest stretches without Blake Griffin in the lineup. It’s become increasingly clear that Griffin’s return is the key to what the Clippers will be able to do in the playoffs. But Paul deserves credit for driving the Clippers to their current position in the standings.
7. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Last week’s ranking: No. 7
Kia Awards: Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry is a nominee for the Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month.
A sore right elbow kept Lowry out of Wednesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, robbing us all of a point guard duel with fellow All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Lowry’s absence impacted the Raptors, who were thumped him at the controls. It makes sense, though, for Raptors coach Dwane Casey to be extra cautious with Lowry as the playoffs approach. The Raptors have to prove they are capable of surviving the first round after back-to-back postseasons of being bounced in the first round. Lowry had been on a tear before sitting out against the Celtics, averaging 25.8 points while shooting 48 percent from beyond the 3-point line, 6.8 assist, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals.
8. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Last week’s ranking: No. 9
Kia Awards: Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas is a nominee for the Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month.
Thomas continues to lead by example for a young and hungry Celtics team that could pose major problems for someone in the playoffs. He posted his 11th straight game with 20 or more points in Wednesday’s trouncing of Toronto, the Celtics’ third straight win as they moved back into the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. With Jae Crowder still nursing that sore ankle and out of the lineup, Thomas has been forced to carry an even larger offensive load. The extra work hasn’t been much of an issue for Thomas, who is averaging 26.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds this month.
9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Last week’s ranking: No. 8
Lillard Leads Blazers Past Mavs
Damian Lillard scores 27 points with six rebounds and six assists to lead the Blazers to victory over the visiting Mavericks, 109-103.
Lillard had a tough night against Chris Paul and the Clippers Thursday and then had to watch J.J. Redick end the game on a buzzer-beater. His 18 points (on an ugly 4-for-16 shooting performance, including 2-for-8 from deep) was his second-lowest scoring game of the month. It was also just the third time in March that he failed to reach the 20-point mark. It was the third loss in five games for the Trail Blazers, who are 4-6 in their last 10 games. Dame and the Trail Blazers have to crank it back up down the stretch if they want to avoid the mess that will be the fight for the seventh and eighth spots in the Western Conference playoff chase.
10. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons Jerseys
Last week’s ranking: Not ranked
The Pistons’ big man makes a return trip to the top 10 after dropping off of the radar for a couple of months. His work this season, though, has been stellar. He came through in the clutch in Monday’s win over Milwaukee, his tip-in with two seconds to play lifting the Pistons to a 92-91 win. He turned in one of his most dominant performances of the season (30 points on 14-for-20 shooting, 14 rebounds and two blocks) in Wednesday’s blowout win over the Orlando Magic Jerseys. The Pistons have won four straight and are surging at the right time, climbing back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture heading into tonight’s critical showdown against the Charlotte Bobcats at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Others receiving consideration: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets Jerseys; Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat Jerseys; Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors; Paul George, Indiana Pacers Jerseys; Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors;
Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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