Heat Check

Jerebko’s injury casts dark cloud over Pistons’ preseason-opening loss

Jason Maxiell rebounds the ball against Udonis Haslem.
Jesse D. Garrabrant /NBAE/Getty Images
Dwyane Wade went to watch the Dolphins play New England on Monday night and bumped into fans who wished him luck in the Heat’s game the following night.

“I’m like … preseason,” he shrugged, amazed outsiders would be wholly invested in the outcome of a game where even the competitors admit winning takes a back seat to other objectives.

“But I guess it’s a little different,” he said, “and I don’t feel it yet.”

That the Pistons were party to the coming-out party of Miami’s new-age big three made it a little different for them, too, in drawing meaningful conclusions about just what they are and what they can become as they look to put the injury-wracked 27-win season behind them.

Then again, it might have been a little easier to put last season behind them if they didn’t leave Miami with a 105-89 loss and the same sort of injury concern that dogged them from opening night on a year ago. Two starters left the floor before the first quarter was out, and while Tayshaun Prince’s elbow to the head was nothing more than a temporary scare – he came back in the second quarter and quickly drained consecutive triples – Jonas Jerebko’s hard fall in the lane might.

Jerebko’s injury was characterized as a right Achilles strain and that – more than the leaky defense or the lax caretaking of the basketball – was the concern as the Pistons pulled away from American Airlines Arena late Tuesday night. Jerebko will require further examination on Wednesday to determine the extent of the injury, but the immediate outlook isn’t good.

It went beyond that, too. Late in the game, rookie Terrico White suffered a broken right foot. He’ll be re-examined on Wednesday, as well, before any timetable for his return is established.

“When I saw Tay go down, I was like, man, not this again,” Charlie Villanueva said. “But, thank God, he was OK. But Jonas went down – it seems we can’t get a break. But no one is going to feel sorry for us. We’ve got to keep working.”

Those who saw the final score but not the game probably would assume the Pistons got crushed early by Miami’s big three - free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in free agency, in case you spent the summer in seclusion – but that really wasn’t the case.

For the first six minutes of the first quarter, or about the time that the two starting units were intact, the Pistons played Miami even, 11-11, amid an atmosphere that felt more like the playoffs than the preseason.

So the Pistons can take that from the night, at least – they weren’t cowed by the moment, didn’t shrink from the idea of Miami’s might. It was what happened after that where John Kuester will find teaching moments – the loose transition defense, the rash of turnovers, the early foul imbalance.

Again in the third quarter, when it was mostly starters vs. starters, the Pistons cut a 20-point halftime deficit to 14 over the first six minutes and wound up outscoring Miami 51-47 in the second half.

“In preseason, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you,” Kuester said. “I thought we started off doing things we had talked about in camp – moving the basketball – and then I thought we were defending and defending with a purpose. Then we had breakdowns and, boy, they made us pay, and LeBron will make you pay.

“A big thing we talked about all year is we’ve got to value the basketball. We’ll get better at that. It’s also important, when we take bad shots, shots that aren’t in the flow of what we’re trying to do, it makes a huge difference.”

The Heat shot 57 percent in first half and scored 28 points in the paint, thanks to seven offensive rebounds and James acting as a one-man fast break on several occasions or knifing through the teeth of their half-court defense, especially late in the first quarter when Tracy McGrady was guarding him and help was slow to rotate off of pick-and-rolls that wiped out McGrady.

Some of those James fast breaks were fueled by the nine first-quarter Pistons turnovers. Once they cleaned that up, finishing with a more reasonable19, and got better ball movement, they played Miami on much more even terms even as James (18 points) and Bosh (20) made sure to leave strong first impressions. The Pistons’ bad injury mojo rubbed off on Wade, who limped off with a hamstring strain less than four minutes into the game.

“I thought our ball movement really helped us when we did it and it showed,” Ben Gordon said. “When we passed the ball around a few times, got the ball from strong to weak, it seemed like we pretty much could get any shot we wanted. We’ve just got to keep those plays in mind and build on those.”

Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton reminded everyone why they’re still held in high regard by Joe Dumars and Kuester with strong games, Prince scoring 15 efficient points in 22 minutes and Hamilton 10 in 19. Gordon came on after a tough start to score 17 and get to the line eight times. And Kuester lauded the play of Rodney Stuckey, who missed all five of his shot attempts but scored five points on free throws and dished out five assists against two turnovers.

The two young players who helped their bids for spots in the rotation most were Austin Daye and Greg Monroe. Daye scored 12 and showed the 3-point weapon he can become by making two of his three tries. Monroe finished with 10 points and three, but missed three layups and threw a few pinpoint passes that should have resulted in assists but didn’t.

“I thought (Daye and Monroe) both did a nice job,” Kuester said. “Tayshaun and Rip did a great job. Stuckey ran the team the way I wanted him to – very pleased with his energy. I know Stuck, offensively, didn’t have a great game, but that’s OK. He was running the team the right way and I was very impressed.”

To be sure, there were enough positives to draw from the game to balance the concerns that will be the topic of tape critique at Wednesday’s practice. The dark cloud, though, the thing that all too hauntingly evokes last season’s frustration, will be awaiting two more medical reports that don’t promise much in the way of good news.