With just six games left and clinging to a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament, the Oklahoma City Thunder can't afford to let another opportunity go to waste.
A night after losing to the Charlotte Hornets, the Thunder oppose the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
Even though his team is battling for its first playoff appearance since 2020, Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said the possibility wouldn't derail the organization's development plan.
"I think if it is an outcome that's downstream of our process and the way that we're trying to do things, it would be great, because it would be a marker along the way," Daigneault said. "Not so important that it's gonna distract us from our way of doing things.
"We need to bet on that day over day over day. We've done that for two or three years. That's what's put us in a position to compete for the play-in, so for us to abandon that at this point would be hasty."
The Thunder (37-39) could be without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the second consecutive game. The All-Star sprained his left ankle on Sunday in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Oklahoma City did get Aleksej Pokusevski back for Tuesday's game. The third-year forward had missed 41 games with a non-displaced fracture in his left leg. Pokusevski was scoreless in nearly 10 minutes during the Thunder's 137-134 loss to the Hornets.
Isaiah Joe paced Oklahoma City with 33 points on Tuesday, and Josh Giddey just missed a triple-double, winding up with a career-high 31 points plus 10 rebounds and nine assists. Jalen Williams missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
The Thunder are tied with the Dallas Mavericks (37-39) for 10th place in the West, the final play-in position.
The Pistons (16-59) have lost six consecutive games and 17 of their past 18. They dropped five straight games by at least 12 points before falling 126-117 to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
In the midst of another lost season for Detroit, rookie Jaden Ivey has been a bright spot. He is coming off a career-high, 32-point against the Bucks.
However, the things Ivey is doing outside scoring are drawing the most attention from his teammates and coaches. He also had eight rebounds and eight assists on Monday.
"We know Jaden is going to be able to score the ball, but I'm happy with all the other things he's doing," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. "He's growing as a player, especially on the defensive end."
Ivey also has settled into his role as a point guard, particularly developing a connection with rookie center Jalen Duren.
"He's one of the better guys I've ever played with in terms of him reading the game, his IQ, his ability to get past his first defender," Duren said. "He's one of the guys that's easiest to play with. I feel like he's gotten better as I've gotten better. We've both grown together, and he's locked in."
The Wednesday game will be the last of two meetings between the teams this season. The Pistons beat the Thunder 112-103 in Detroit on Nov. 7.
Ivey figures to be the only Pistons starter from that game who plays on Wednesday. Saddiq Bey was traded while Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Stewart are all out with long-term injuries.
"These teams we are playing, they have nothing to lose out there," Oklahoma City's Giddey said. "We have to understand we have to buckle down. We need to keep our foot down."
--Field Level Media