Fresh off a dominating performance over All-Star weekend, Andre Drummond may have solidified his place as one of the NBA's top young players.
Drummond can boost that claim by helping end the Detroit Pistons' five-year playoff drought, a goal well within their reach as they begin the second half of the season Tuesday night by hosting the Charlotte Bobcats to open a home-and-home series.
The Pistons are within a half-game of the Bobcats for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The teams meet again Wednesday in Charlotte.
In the league's Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Drummond finished with 30 points and 25 rebounds while leading his team, managed by former Piston Grant Hill, to a 142-136 victory. Drummond was named the game's MVP.
"My mindset was to come out and play with energy, like I've been doing all year," Drummond told the Pistons' website. "I had my mind set to win the MVP, so I went out there and did it."
With the Pistons (22-30), Drummond has been playing some of his best ball of the season lately. He's scored in double figures in a career-high eight straight games, averaging 15.8 points and 15.0 rebounds while shooting 67.1 percent from the field. Detroit is 5-3 in that span as the second-year center has recorded seven double-doubles, giving him 39 on the season to rank second in the league behind Minnesota's Kevin Love.
Against the Bobcats (23-30), Drummond will be going up against Al Jefferson, who has been at the top of his game lately as well. Over the past eight games, Jefferson is recording 26.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per contest. The Bobcats are 8-2 when he has more than 25 points.
Jefferson got the better of Drummond in the only meeting this season, scoring 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte won 116-106 in Detroit on Dec. 20. Jefferson also had 14 rebounds while Drummond grabbed 15 to go with his 14 points and five blocks.
Kemba Walker scored what remains a season-high 34 points that night and is averaging 26.2 in the last five meetings.
Walker runs the point for a Bobcats team averaging a league-low 12.7 turnovers, including no more than 11 in five of the last six games. Charlotte committed 10 in its most recent game Wednesday but forced only nine by Brooklyn, which had an 18-5 edge in points off turnovers and won 105-89.
"You have to play with more discipline," coach Steve Clifford said. "When the chance is there to make a play, you have to make it. I thought our turnovers were just terrible."
Defense will be a big part of the Pistons' focus during the home stretch under interim coach John Loyer, who is 1-1 since taking over for the fired Maurice Cheeks.
Loyer said following their last game, a 93-89 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday, that the team needs to improve on getting back and not allowing easy baskets. Detroit allows 13.8 fast-break points per game, ranked 24th in the league.
"An area we're going to need to improve on is our transition defense and spells," Loyer said. "When we get back and load to the basketball and get all five guys inside the ball we are pretty good. It's when we either step up the floor or don't get the ball stop."