True Blue Pistons - January 2011
Danilo Gallinari hit a triple on the first possession of the fourth quarter to break a tie. Charlie Villanueva, seconds later, shot an answering triple that rimmed in and out. No big deal, right? Except on this night, it was. With both offenses on high perc, virtually no opportunity could be squandered.
And with the Knicks on fire early in the fourth quarter, the Pistons squandered a handful too many chances and wound up losing by 18. Gallinari’s triple made it 94-91 with still almost the whole quarter to play, but it fueled a 12-2 Knicks run that included another Gallinari triple two minutes later and give the Knicks their biggest lead of the game to that point.
The Knicks operated with razor-sharp efficiency over the first six minutes of the quarter, scoring 20 points on 11 possessions with just one turnover and one missed shot. The Pistons, meanwhile, got only two Ben Gordon free throws in their first six possessions, committing two turnovers and missing two other shots besides Villanueva’s triple. On another night, such a brief lull in offensive efficiency wouldn’t be fatal.
“We knew this was a team capable of scoring a lot of points and making runs,” Villanueva said after the 124-106 loss. “This is a team that’s very good in spurts. When they made their run, we couldn’t capitalize. We had the looks – we just didn’t make them.”
It was as much about what led to the fourth quarter as what happened once it began that concerned John Kuester.
Posted Saturday, January 29, 2011
Just as every kid on the globe who displays a flair with the brush dreams of hanging his work in the Louvre one day, anyone who’s ever dribbled a basketball with more than passing efficiency aspires to drain 3-pointers and dunk on the sport’s biggest stage: Madison Square Garden.
Surely it was the case for New Yorkers Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, who stayed close to home and played college basketball at Connecticut of the Big East, which holds its postseason conference tournament every year at basketball’s universally acknowledged mecca.
For Greg Monroe, a Louisiana kid who migrated north to Georgetown to play his college ball in the Big East, there’s extra significance to tonight’s Pistons game at the Garden against the Knicks, when Monroe makes his NBA Garden debut: If not for some sizzling performances on that very stage last season, the Pistons might not have had their fingers crossed on draft night that Golden State would take anyone but Monroe with the No. 6 pick so he would fall to them at No. 7.
Members of the Pistons’ front office saw Monroe in person many times in his two years at Georgetown, but Joe Dumars saw him twice last season – both at Madison Square Garden. And in both games, Monroe was the best player on the floor.
Against Butler in November, Monroe had one of his finest statistical games with 24 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots as the Hoyas won. It would be Butler’s last defeat until narrowly losing the national championship game in April to Duke.
Posted Friday, January 28, 2011
LeBron James committed heresy when he compared the Miami Heat’s road-show allure to the mythic aura of the Beatles. But it was more like Paul McCartney the Pistons got Friday night – a one-man band, but a pretty darn good one.
With Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade out with injuries, the Heat – as the Cavaliers did so often the past seven seasons – leaned hard on James all night. But with the Pistons one point ahead and under 10 seconds to go, it was Eddie House – not LeBron, who had scored 39 of the Heat’s 86 points in the buildup to that moment – with the ball in his hands going up for a game-winner.
Ben Gordon looked like he got all ball, but the whistle went against him. And after two House free throws with 6.5 seconds left put Miami ahead, Austin Daye never heard the whistle he had valid reason to expect would put him at the line with a chance to win the game. Daye, taking a pinpoint inbounds lob from Tayshaun Prince with 2.7 seconds left, got hit in the chest by James Jones as he was about to dunk the winning points – but no call was made.
So one call that went against them and one non-call that never came their way, about four seconds apart, conspired to prevent the Pistons from notching an unlikely sweep of Florida. After upsetting Orlando on the road on Monday, the Pistons came within one point – and two head-scratching referees’ decisions in the final 10 seconds – of knocking off the Heat in Miami, losing 88-87.
Posted Thursday, January 27, 2011
The Pistons are several steps removed from evoking memories of the 2003-04 NBA champions that held five straight teams under 70 points and finished the season allowing opponents to shoot just 41 percent. And the sample size is still too small to draw sweeping conclusions.
But the improvement that coincided with John Kuester’s lineup change nine games ago at least appears to be built in part on a better defensive foundation.
In going 12-25 through 37 games, the Pistons allowed 100.3 points per game and saw opponents shoot 47.9 percent. In nine games since, they’ve held opponents to 94.4 points and dropped the shooting percentage to 47.3.
The points per game drop is significant even if the shooting percentage change seems minimal. Add the context of the quality and the makeup of the opponents, though, and the numbers become more meaningful.
Six of the nine opponents over that span rank in the top half of NBA teams in points per game. A more graphic illustration of the quality of the opponents’ offensive firepower is their shooting percentages. Five of the opponents – Boston (No. 1), Phoenix (2), Denver (5), Toronto (7) and Orlando (8) – rank among the top eight in the NBA in field-goal accuracy. Dallas and Memphis rank among the top 12.
Posted Wednesday, January 26, 2011
The man the Pistons asked to replace Chauncey Billups is the one they expected to have guard him upon Mr. Big Shot’s annual visit to The Palace. But Rodney Stuckey only got to do so for 10 minutes on Wednesday. He did it very well – Billups had two points and one assist after one quarter, making one of three shots – but then Stuckey ran into a brick wall.
Actually, it was Carmelo Anthony – the guy who’s also been the roadblock to a proposed trade that might have made the news. Anthony was setting a pick when Stuckey rammed his right shoulder into him, crumpled to the court in pain and headed to the locker room. X-rays were negative and the injury is being called a contusion. That means Stuckey shouldn’t be out for the long haul – he says he expects to make the trip to Miami and hopes to be able to play on Friday night – but he was out for the rest of the Denver game.
And that was all the opening Billups needed. Playing the rest of the way guarded mostly by Ben Gordon or Will Bynum – exactly the shorter, smaller type that allows Billups to use his strength and shooting range to create scoring opportunities – Billups finished with a game-high 26, 14 of them in the final 4:34, including four 3-pointers in that time and six for the game.
Posted Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Last week, I broke down what remained of the Pistons’ schedule and underscored the importance of the remaining games they would play against the eight other Eastern Conference teams, like the Pistons, with losing records scrapping for what looks like two playoff berths. At the time, the Pistons had 40 games remaining with 20 of them against those teams.
Now 19 of their remaining 37 games – slightly more than 50 percent – come against those teams. But let’s take it a step further and focus on the five teams that look like they have the most realistic shot at securing those final two playoff berths: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Indiana and Milwaukee in addition to the Pistons.
The schedules suggest the Pistons are going to have to beat out at least one of the 76ers or Bucks. Even though Milwaukee is currently one game out of the No. 8 seed – a half-game ahead of the Pistons – the Bucks clearly have the most favorable schedule of the five.
Posted Monday, January 24, 2011
The path to redemption for their sluggish first two months is still a long and winding one, but the Pistons have taken several assertive steps over the past 11 days. None was bigger than the one they took Monday when they racked up their best road win of the season – and, by extension, quite likely their best win, period – in knocking off East titan Orlando 103-96.
That makes five wins in seven games for the Pistons and the two losses are notable. One, a four-point loss at Boston in a game the Pistons controlled for most of the night, was largely encouraging and probably the step they needed to be able to not only control another road game against a superior team but close it out, as well. The other, a stink bomb at New Jersey two nights later, is the type of performance the Pistons must dismiss from their repertoire if they hope to make the playoff run they now fully believe is within them.
About that: The Pistons, now 17-28, are among a group of five – Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Indiana the others – that very likely could be competing for the final two playoff berths. If the Pistons can survive this brutal week – up next: hosting Denver Wednesday, followed by a Friday-Sunday road trip to Miami and New York – they’ll set themselves up to gain ground in a forgiving February.
Posted Saturday, January 22, 2011
John Kuester is a thoroughly honorable man, but even he will advocate for the occasional white lie. The Pistons came into Saturday’s game with Phoenix a clearly fatigued team and played a thoroughly sluggish offensive game for much of the night, but did what Kuester said they must after a similarly sluggish loss Friday at New Jersey: lie to their legs.
Nobody, perhaps, had to do it more than Ben Wallace, rushed back into the rotation ahead of schedule after missing the past six games with a sprained left ankle when Charlie Villanueva couldn’t go after spraining his right ankle at New Jersey.
“Body” – the nickname Wallace is known by in the locker room – “lied to ’em big-time,” Kuester grinned after a grinding 75-74 win that defied all common sense. “Ben Wallace, who had not played, I thought was phenomenal. I kept asking, ‘Are you all right?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m great.’ ”
He was, too, though the stat sheet – zero points, seven boards, a steal and a blocked shot – would barely acknowledge his role in one of the least likely wins The Palace has witnessed in a long while.
The Suns led 61-47 to start the fourth quarter on a night where a 14-point lead seemed like 44. The Pistons had scored 74 points in losing at New Jersey and were on pace to score 64 against the Suns – the NBA’s leakiest defensive team, averaging 108.6 per game allowed – through three quarters.
Posted Friday, January 21, 2011
However many losses the Pistons can afford to losing teams and still maintain even faint playoff hopes is up for debate, but whatever that number was before Friday it’s one less now.
If Wednesday’s loss at Boston left the Pistons disappointed yet encouraged at the same time, Friday’s 89-74 setback at New Jersey merely offered up a double scoop of heaping frustration sprinkled with anger and topped with discouragement.
The Pistons know they have to win games like this one and felt with their recent stretch of play – three straight wins before the four-point loss at Boston in a game they led most of the way and by eight midway through the fourth quarter – that they would come into New Jersey and not only continue to build momentum but atone for the season-opening loss that established the season’s first-half trend of letting winnable games get away from them.
“It was disappointing,” said Ben Gordon, whose 2 of 7 shooting night typified his team’s flat performance. “But that’s been the story of this year – inconsistent. In the NBA, that’s not going to cut it.”
The Pistons had 20 games against the eight other sub-.500 East teams heading into Friday’s game and every one of them now becomes a zero-sum game – the winner’s playoff chances in every one of them will increase just as the loser’s will suffer. The Pistons have to be on the right end of a significant majority of the 19 now remaining.
Posted Thursday, January 20, 2011
The Pistons have 40 games left to their season and exactly half of them will be just like their next one – against the four teams directly ahead of them or the four immediately behind them in the Eastern Conference, the nine of them scapping over the last two playoff spots most likely available to them.
If that doesn’t put Friday’s game with New Jersey in the “must win” camp, it and the 19 others the Pistons will play against Philadelphia (two), Indiana (four), Charlotte (two), Milwaukee (three), Toronto (one), Washington (two), New Jersey (two more after Friday) and Cleveland (three) are close enough.
“Those are game we can capitalize on and we should capitalize on, especially if we’re serious about trying to make the playoffs,” Ben Gordon said after Thursday’s practice on the campus of Caldwell College. “A loss is a loss, but when you look at games like last night against Boston, we know we can compete against them. When you look at teams like New Jersey, some of the lower teams, we should not only be able to compete but win those games. That’s the mentality we should have.”
The Pistons are in a better place mentally these days, feeling better about themselves than they have all season. They dominated Dallas in a Monday home win – the Mavs followed up by dropping the Lakers on Wednesday – and led for the majority of the night against Boston before getting outplayed in the final three minutes in a most hostile environment.
Posted Wednesday, January 19, 2011
It could have been 1987 all over again – a young Pistons team coming to Boston and measuring itself against the East’s reigning power, carrying the game for most of the night but leaving the Garden, old or new, soaked in heartache and frustration yet fueled by hope for a brighter future. And wondering where they hide the wretched leprechauns.
The Pistons led most of the game, by eight midway through the fourth, and by four again after the Celtics rallied back twice to tie, but for the want of a few more rebounds they saw the Celtics close on an 8-0 run as the Pistons missed their last six shots over six possessions.
“Couldn’t ask for more from my guys,” said Tracy McGrady, who continued his ascent as a team leader with 36 minutes at the point, dealing seven assists. “We did a hell of a job competing with those guys. This is a tough place to play and what it really came down to was who was going to execute. Them being a veteran club and knowing how to close these types of games out, they did that. On the other hand, we’re still growing. But I like the way we competed tonight.”
The game was tied at 82 with under a minute left when the Pistons got the stop they needed, forcing a miss from Kevin Garnett. But Rajon Rondo knifed inside to grab the offensive rebound and give the Celtics another chance. Ray Allen, bottled up all night – he was 1 of 7 at the time – then drained a tough, turnaround jumper, originally ruled a 3-pointer but changed to a two.
Posted Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The Pistons right now are a little like the garage band that’s finally polished its act, landed a record deal and is ready to go national. The next step is to see if they can sound as good on the road as they do at home.
They’ve won three straight games over four days, punctuated by a four-quarter domination of the Dallas Mavericks, replenished by Dirk Nowitzki’s return to the lineup. Can the success the Pistons have achieved since retooling the starting lineup and streamlining the rotation translate into road success, where the Pistons are 4-17 this season?
“Our confidence should be up, especially after winning three in a row, playing the way we’ve been playing,” said Ben Gordon, who has averaged 15.7 points over the four games since Rip Hamilton was removed from the rotation. “I think a lot of times, that’s a major part of it – having the confidence and believing that you can do it. I think we can go out now and test ourselves on the road and make something happen there.”
The two-game road trip starts with a bang – at Boston. The Celtics, coming off a Monday night win over Orlando, are 31-9 and three games ahead of Miami in the loss column for the East’s best record.
Posted Monday, January 17, 2011
The first half of the season didn’t come close to fulfilling expectations, but at least it ended with a flourish. The Pistons hammered Dallas, nearly at full strength with Dirk Nowitzki back in the lineup, and won a third straight game for the first time this season.
It gives the Pistons four wins in six games over a stretch that John Kuester told his team would be their opportunity to make a move in the Eastern Conference 10 days ago. Since changing the starting lineup and tinkering with the rotation, the Pistons have gone 3-1. And since losing the first game with the new lineup, against Memphis, the Pistons have won three straight third quarters and shaved nearly one point off of their average third-quarter deficit for the season, which at 4.0 after the Memphis loss had them last in the league.
“Not to jinx us, but we did a great job in the third quarter,” Kuester said. “I was very impressed with how we came out and defended and offensively shared the ball. We were attacking, getting good post-ups, guys finding the right man open, and even that second group came in and did a great job of distributing the basketball.”
It was the blueprint for how the Pistons can turn the season around in the second half – holding their own defensively and allowing their many talented scorers the chance to carry the offense in turn for stretches, finding the hot hand or exploiting matchup advantages.
Posted Saturday, January 15, 2011
The Pistons keep flirting with playoff extinction, then dance away from the flame with the occasional win that offers the chance to build momentum. They did some of their fanciest stepping of the season Saturday night, recovering from a porous defensive first half that saw Sacramento scorch them for 70 points only to turn it around in the second half and post a 110-106 win.
The win, coming on the heels of Friday’s victory at Toronto, leaves the Pistons with an underwhelming 14-26 record, but that’s also just three games behind Philadelphia for the No. 8 playoff seed in the East.
“It always feel good to get a win,” said Will Bynum, one of the stars of the night with two free throws and a huge blocked shot on Tyreke Evans, all in the final 20 seconds, as part of an 18-point, seven-assist night to spearhead a dynamic bench effort all the way around. “That’s two in a row, so hopefully we can try to make it three. Come out and play with the same kind of energy and defensively, how we played in the second half was big.”
The Kings, just 9-28 coming into the game but fresh off an impressive road win over the Knicks on Friday night, were spectacular offensively in building a 70-59 halftime lead. Jason Thompson had 20 points at the break and Evans 18, and the four-man frontcourt rotation of Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert combined to make 17 of 20 shots as the Kings scored 38 points in the paint and shot 70 percent.
Posted Friday, January 14, 2011
The Pistons put an end to their third-quarter woes with a lead-protecting performance in the quarter that has bedeviled them, putting an end to their five-game road losing streak with a convincing 101-95 win in Toronto. With a disappointing 12-26 record looming over the Pistons’ season, they took to Toronto looking to bounce back and further avenge their December loss to the Raptors at The Palace, when they squandered a 25-point lead and lost. And they did just that.
The Raptors went on an 11-2 run in the third, but the Pistons still led by nine points at the end of the quarter after leading by seven at halftime. The Pistons outscored a total of 22-20 in the quarter with Tracy McGrady scoring 10, including a clutch triple in the last two seconds. They might have won the quarter by just two points, but they won nonetheless, proving to fans and critics that the team can find its way through adversity. When asked what they had done differently at the half, John Kuester said, “we made a little adjustment at halftime and guys responded,” jokingly adding, “I didn’t talk as much.” Kuester continued to test a new lineup with McGrady at the point and Rodney Stuckey at shooting guard with Greg Monroe, Tayshaun Prince and Chris Wilcox in the frontcourt, a combination that has proved to work well in its beginning stages. McGrady showed poise and leadership running the point, putting up a season-high 22 points. His best before Friday night was 21 points against Boston in December.
Posted Thursday, January 13, 2011
There’s not a single NBA head coach – not Doc Rivers, not Gregg Popovich, not Phil Jackson – who would have lightly undertaken the decision that John Kuester made this week in removing Rip Hamilton from the rotation.
So understand that for Kuester, this was an especially wrenching decision. He was on Larry Brown’s staff when the Pistons won the 2004 NBA title and well remembers all the big shots Hamilton made in their run through the playoffs that year, maybe none bigger than his patented baseline jumper in the final minute to win that clutch Game 6 in New Jersey with the Pistons down 3-2 in the series 48 hours after their crushing triple-overtime home loss in Game 5.
Kuester knows the only NBA championship ring in his possession wouldn’t have been possible without Hamilton’s input. Remember the first thing Kuester did when Joe Dumars named him Pistons coach in July 2009? He skipped the first few days of Summer League, where the Pistons had three important rookies taking their first professional steps, so he could attend Hamilton’s wedding.
“He’s meant so much to this organization,” Kuester said in the aftermath of Wednesday’s loss to Memphis, notable more for Hamilton’s absence from the rotation more than for the result. “Right now we’re searching. We’re searching to find a group that can get minutes and get the job done. Everyone has gotten a chance this season.”
Posted Wednesday, January 12, 2011
An unfamiliar lineup showed early promise but did nothing to break the Pistons from a disturbingly familiar pattern: Their third quarters continue to cripple them. John Kuester removed Rip Hamilton from the rotation completely, supplanted Ben Gordon in the starting lineup with Tracy McGrady and paired rookie Greg Monroe with Chris Wilcox up front since Ben Wallace was out with a sprained ankle.
But an early 14-point lead was down to three at halftime. And that wasn’t nearly enough of a cushion when the third-quarter malaise – even with a radically different lineup – struck again. Memphis went on a 12-0 run midway through the quarter to take the lead for good and held on against a late Gordon barrage – all 25 of his points came in the final 13:30 of the game – for a 107-99 win that puts Pistons playoff hopes on life support at 12-26.
“The third period ended up hurting us again,” John Kuester said after the Pistons – last in the NBA in third-quarter scoring margin at minus-3.8 coming into the game – were outscored 30-18 to fall nine points behind entering the fourth. “We talked about it. We talked about being physical. It seemed like they were much more aggressive and getting the calls in that third period.
“It just seems like we’re settling for shots. Some of the looks we’re getting are not great – they’re good looks, but they’re not going in. Our energy in that first quarter … maybe we should make the halftime a little bit longer, go for 20 minutes instead of just 15. There were things I saw that were positive and that’s what we’re searching for right now.”
Posted Tuesday, January 11, 2011
For three or four days now, the Pistons have twisted in the wind as a proposed trade to which they are a party gets aired very publicly. It makes them all uneasy, even though only one Piston – Rip Hamilton – has been mentioned prominently, and it provides a glimpse into the way different organizations go about their business.
If the Pistons are a little uneasy over all of this, imagine how the New Jersey Nets feel. For the Nets, it’s been three or four months, not days. And at some point along the continuum, virtually every player on the roster save Brook Lopez has been included in one package or another heading to Denver in return for the grand prize, Carmelo Anthony.
The Denver Nuggets are being painted as the black hats in this Melo-Drama, portrayed as wafflers or worse. They’re an easy mark because of the inexperienced hands on the reins: owner Josh Kroenke is the 30-year-old son of former owner Stan Kroenke, who divested to purchase the St. Louis Rams without running afoul of NFL cross-ownership regulations; and the GM, Masai Ujiri, is a first-timer new to the job.
But the Nuggets are only proceeding with appropriate caution. You only get one chance to trade a superstar. Nobody but Kroenke, Ujiri and their New Jersey counterparts, GM Billy King, his top assistant Bobby Marks and, perhaps, absentee owner Mikhail Prokhorov, really know whether they had come to an agreement Sunday night on their end of the deal – the end far more complicated than the relatively straightforward Pistons-Nets side.
Posted Monday, January 10, 2011
Austin Daye, Greg Monroe and the Pistons picked up in the first half at Chicago where they left off in their second-half win over Philadelphia on Saturday night. They led by 12 and had hung 55 points on a team coached by one of the NBA's renowned defensive gurus, Tom Thibodeau.
They couldn't get to half of 55 in the second half, scoring 27 and seeing their 12-point lead turn into a 13-point loss - a storyline eerily close to the season's third game, when they led by 20 early in the third quarter before getting steamrolled down the stretch by the Bulls.
"It was a tale of two halves," John Kuester said. "We did a nice job offensively in the first half. We also forced missed shots and got the rebounds. In the third quarter, they went on a spurt and we just couldn't control it. If we could have generated anything offensively, we would have been in this. Their team capitalized on our mistakes."
"We knew we didn't do a good job on defense," Bulls free-agent prize Carlos Boozer said after the game. "We knew we had to step up our defense. We did it right away (after halftime) and we got back in the game. We held them to 82 points."
The game capped a day of uneasy speculation on the looming three-way trade that New Jersey and Denver need the Pistons to help facilitate, with Rip Hamilton's name front and center. Hamilton, supposedly bound for New Jersey along with Carmelo Anthony and his old Pistons running mate Chauncey Billups from Denver, missed all five of his shots in 22 minutes, scoring only on a pair of free throws.
Posted Saturday, January 8, 2011
On a night the Pistons got a healthy glimpse of their future, they also helped preserve their present.
And if this season goes anywhere, then Austin Daye’s turnaround corner triple in the final five seconds to force an overtime that looked unreachable to the Pistons surely will be remembered as one of the year’s signature plays.
After his cold-blooded tying triple, Daye scored the first five points of overtime and then rookie Greg Monroe picked up the baton, scoring the next three on a night he recorded his second career double-double – and his second straight double-double – and went for a career-high 16 points to go with 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“(The future) really looks good to me, but hopefully it looks good to Joe D,” Daye said after he contributed 15 points and six boards in 25 minutes off the bench. “Joe’s the one who drafted us last year and this year and I bet he’s pleased seeing us out there on the floor at the end of games, making plays.”
The Pistons have much work to do before they can talk credibly about a playoff push, but had they lost this one the playoffs might have been even more unreachable than overtime appeared to be for them.
Philadelphia is one of the teams ahead of them that will need to be overhauled and the 76ers would have been four games up in the loss column had they held on to their 3-point lead with 6.2 seconds left. That’s when Lou Williams, an 82 percent foul shooter, stepped to the free-throw line and opened the door for the Pistons by missing both.
Posted Friday, January 7, 2011
It wasn’t exactly a rookie mistake Greg Monroe committed when he said “we’re going into (Saturday’s game) with the notion that it’s a must-win.” It just isn’t something you’ll normally catch a coach or a veteran saying unless it was the last game of the season with a playoff berth at stake.
But Monroe might not have been too far off. Sure, the Pistons are only three games out of the No. 8 playoff seed in the East with 47 games still on the schedule, but the circumstances of Saturday’s game are a little different.
For one, the identity of the team currently holding the No. 8 seed and Saturday’s opponent match: Philadelphia. For another, Philly, after opening the season 3-13, is 11-8 since, and the Pistons need to launch a similar turnaround at some point in the near future or they’ll be facing a long string of must-win games. Launching that turnaround at the expense of one of the handful of teams with a shot at the final two playoff spots in the East would mean more than just the one game in the standings the Pistons would stand to gain.
“This is an important game,” John Kuester began, quickly tacking back to, “but every game is important for us right now. We’ve got to play with the type of tenacity and concentration we did against Boston (in the Pistons’ last win on Dec. 29) and we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Posted Thursday, January 6, 2011
Wins turn haters into fans, they shed light on impact players and cast a shadow over flaws. Wins turn pessimists into optimists and have a way of turning the corners of a frown upright among fans, critics and even the players and coaches on the court. Wins equal success.
Looking at the Pistons’ 11-24 record, you could say they’ve been unsuccessful so far by most reasonable standards. But often losing brings about a level of frustration that can ultimately change the way a team performs.
While the last two losses against Utah and Los Angeles were ultimately disappointing, there were glimmers of hope and promise, yet the spotlight hasn’t dimmed on the mistakes just yet. The emergence of Tracy McGrady running the point, just one rebound shy of a triple double against Utah, is one of those glimmers. Playing a competitive first half against arguably the best team in the NBA, down by just three points after two quarters of play, is impressive. Coming back in the third quarter and allowing the Lakers to go on a 16-2 run, not so impressive. A convincing win over Boston just before the New Year in front of a packed home crowd is another affirmation that the Pistons can win games if they play on all cylinders. Still, the Pistons are sitting at 11-24 on the season.
Posted Wednesday, January 5, 2011
With a 0-3 Western road trek that looked daunting when the schedule came out and started badly with a New Year’s Eve dud at Phoenix behind the Pistons, it’s time to take their temperature. And coming off a bout with a stomach virus nastier than Ben Wallace’s glare, I say that advisedly.
Inconsistency remains the Pistons’ biggest bugaboo – but woven within that inconsistency rests whatever optimism can be mustered that the season can finish with a flourish. Because at least inconsistency means good and bad mixed in relatively equal amounts, and lately that’s what the Pistons have been exhibiting.
There is an ebb and flow to every team’s season, of course, and even within games teams blow hot and cold. But momentum remains more elusive for the Pistons than suits a playoff contender. There was no more stark example than the two games to close 2010, when they scored 104 points in perhaps their best win of the season against one of the NBA’s stingiest defenses, Boston’s, and followed up 48 hours later by scoring 75 points in a perplexing loss against one of the NBA’s leakiest defenses, Phoenix’s.
“We don’t have the toughness we talk about every night to go out and just grind games out,” John Kuester said after Tuesday’s 108-83 loss to the Lakers, who played with the purpose of a team recently embarrassed at home by lesser opponents. “You know, we have to somehow search for that because we’ve got a lot of basketball left. And I believe in this group.
“There’s a lot of basketball left. So we have to make sure that we understand that each half, and each game, we’ve got to compete … the whole time. During the road trip, the Utah game, we competed throughout, and I thought the first half of this game we competed. You just want these guys to have that passion that you have.”