True Blue Pistons - January 2012
NEW YORK – The Pistons are four games into a stretch of seven in nine days, but the frequency of the games might be the least of their schedule concerns. The bigger one is how the games themselves preclude any chance to practice for, you know … the games. The Pistons played perhaps their two best games of the season last week, both three-point losses to East front-runners Miami and Atlanta, and Lawrence Frank surely doesn’t think it a coincidence that both performances came a day after two of the three practices the schedule has allowed the Pistons to hold over the last 3½ weeks.
Since losing to Atlanta in an overtime heartbreaker last Friday, the Pistons have lost one-sided road games to Philadelphia, Milwaukee and New York, the latest a 113-86 setback at basketball’s mecca, Madison Square Garden, to a Knicks team coming off a stretch of nine losses in 10 games but welcoming Carmelo Anthony back to the lineup.
It was a game that continued a losing formula: turnovers leading to easy early points for the opposition, putting them in a comfort zone and forcing the Pistons – a team without much margin for error to start with – to climb uphill for three-plus quarters.
Brandon Knight was on the varsity at Pine Crest Prep as an eighth-grader and took the school to two Florida state titles. In his only season at Kentucky, he was the undisputed floor leader for a team that went to the Final Four. So a 4-18 record is killing him, right?
“I don’t really look at it as adversity,” he said of the first five weeks of his NBA career. “As long as I see progress, as long as I see things getting better, then I can stay positive. If things were staying the same, guys were doing the same things and not trying to buy in, that’s a different story. But guys are trying to get better, trying to do the right things, so it’s easy to stay positive when you see things changing.”
Knight is coming off perhaps his least effective game of the season on Monday at Milwaukee, held scoreless on 0 of 4 shooting with four turnovers and two assists in 24 minutes. If you think that his confidence will take a hit, guess again.
Posted Monday, January 30, 2012
Since Detroit just swiped Prince Fielder from Milwaukee, let’s put Monday’s Pistons-Bucks basketball game in baseball terms: If the Pistons were a baseball team, they’d have to win by playing small ball. Move the runners along, pitch it and catch it. They can’t win slugfests. They can’t let the other team put up crooked numbers in multiple early innings and expect to come back.
Well, that’s what the Pistons did – spot the Bucks a big early lead, erase two-thirds of it, then let them do it all over again. Milwaukee shot open jump shots to the tune of a 69-percent first quarter to build an 18-point lead, but the Pistons closed the first half on a 17-5 run to get within six. But the third quarter was the first half replayed, Milwaukee blowing it right back to 16 with a 12-2 run to open the half.
“It always hurts when you cut down a lead and you give it right back to ’em,” said Greg Monroe, who posted another double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds but only got off 12 shots. “That being said, whenever you do fight back, you have to be perfect for the rest of the game and that’s something we didn’t do. We have to find ways to stay in games early.”
MILWAUKEE – Only Ben Wallace among current Pistons was around in 1999, the last time the NBA scheduled games on three consecutive days. A member of the Washington Wizards at the time, Wallace was 24 and in his third NBA season when the Wizards played four sets of back-to-back-to-back games. So three in three is rare for the NBA, but it happens in college every November and March at preseason and conference tournaments. Brandon Knight played three consecutive games in last March’s SEC tournament won by Kentucky. Greg Monroe did him one better two years ago when Georgetown won three straight games before losing to West Virginia in the Big East final. Jason Maxiell and Tayshaun Prince both played three in three games in their college tournaments.
“That’s something right there that was completely different,” Maxiell said. “I was 19, 20 years old – a lot different on my body. It’s almost the same, knowing you have three games, but this is a whole different level, a lot more intense, a lot more aggressive. Everybody’s going to play hard every night.”
Posted Sunday, January 29, 2012
MILWAUKEE – Of the Pistons’ first 21 games, a full two-thirds have come in back-to-back settings. They’ve not had more than one day between games since playing their season opener on Dec. 26. In only one of their seven back-to-back sets have they not had to hustle out of one town to get to another for the second game. But they’ve yet to experience the thing that makes the 2011-12 lockout season most unique: the dreaded back to back to back.
That changes now. The Pistons play at Milwaukee on Monday, at New York on Tuesday and at New Jersey on Wednesday. They’re doing that after having played a back to back on Friday and Saturday. When they wrap it up, they’ll have one day to catch their breath – and then stare down another back to back at The Palace on Friday and Saturday. Nine days, seven games.
“It is what it is,” Lawrence Frank said. “Everybody has to do it at some point. There’s no sympathy in the NBA.”
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Pistons are heading into a stretch of eight consecutive games against sub-.500 teams. Through games of Saturday, the Pistons had played the third-strongest schedule among all NBA teams – their opponents had a cumulative winning percentage of .566 – behind the Los Angeles Lakers (.574) and New Orleans (.570).
Posted Saturday, January 28, 2012
After having their heart removed without benefit of anesthesia in a devastating home loss Friday, Saturday’s Pistons loss saw their heart simply beat out of rhythm all night. It started early and it really never stopped.
They led from the early minutes until 1.9 seconds of regulation before losing to Atlanta in overtime at The Palace, but this time they fell behind in the early minutes – a 14-0 Philadelphia run that began with an Andre Iguodala dunk fed off the backboard to himself – and spent the rest of the night running in quicksand and growing increasingly frustrated in a 95-74 loss that puts their record at 4-17 with a welcome stretch of eight games against floundering teams looming.
“It’s all about resolve,” said Lawrence Frank, who was curious to gauge his team’s reaction to the way it lost on Friday. “That’s what we talked about before the game. It’s how you react to that. Last night’s game is over. It’s not a college season, where one game defines your season. It’s an NBA season, where you run it back the next night. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to play the type of game we wanted to play.”
Three turnovers littered their first six possessions, broken up only by a Greg Monroe jump shot and three misses at the rim. The turnovers and the paint misses have been season-long bugaboos, components that more often than not put them on their heels defending against transition chances. Atlanta hung around on Friday because it hit just enough transition 3-pointers to stay close. When the Pistons attempted to get back into it after halftime at Philly, three 76ers triples in the third quarter snuffed out their hopes.
Posted Friday, January 27, 2012
When the Pistons beat Portland at The Palace last week, Lawrence Frank ordered Brandon Knight to foul with the Pistons ahead by three points. It's a philosophy he's held since Chauncey Billups threw in a half-court bomb to force what became a three-overtime playoff game en route to the Pistons' 2004 NBA title, one of the epic games in Palace history.
Up three on a final possession Friday night, the Pistons failed to foul Joe Johnson. His triple over Rodney Stuckey forced overtime of a game the Pistons hadn't trailed since Knight's triple tied it at seven in the first quarter. When Zaza Pachulia scored on a put-back to start overtime, the Hawks would never trail, winning 107-101, about the worst way you could script the start of a stretch that sees the Pistons play five games in six nights, all in different cities.
"It's frustrating, but we've got a game tomorrow," Knight said. "That's the biggest thing in this league. You might be frustrated with one game, but there's nothing we can do to change that. We learn from it. We can see we're getting better as a team. As a unit, we're competing. We use what we learn in today's game and put it to use in tomorrow's game."
Brandon Knight doesn’t know it yet, but part of his summer is already blocked off.
“During this off-season, we’re going to spend a lot of time here working out with each other, just getting used to each other and building that chemistry, where we need to be on the court – off the court, as well,” Rodney Stuckey said. “We haven’t (discussed it) yet. But I’m going to demand that. And Brandon is a bright kid. Whatever we need to do to get better, he’s willing to do it.”
Stuckey came to the Pistons in time for the 2007-08 season, by which time Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton already had logged five years together. Stuckey and Knight have started alongside each other for three games. There’s a long way to go before even the principles know exactly how the fit will take, but they’re both encouraged by the possibilities.
Posted Thursday, January 26, 2012
Pistons fans accustomed to deep playoff runs and the occasional June championship celebration don’t leave The Palace happy after losses. But Wednesday’s 101-98 loss to Miami sent them home encouraged, at least, after an exhilarating night that filled the building with an electricity reminiscent of better days past – and promising better days ahead.
Afterward, Lawrence Frank lauded his team’s spirit. He’s spoken of the difference between losing but playing the right way and just plain losing. The Miami game he filed definitively into the former category – with conditions.
He’d probably be happy to know that his players weren’t necessarily buying in to the “losing the right way” thing, by the way.
“We play this game to win, so it was still a loss – that’s what we’re focusing on,” Greg Monroe said when somebody asked if it was a confidence-building game. “We’re not trying to gauge confidence or anything like that. We’re trying to win games when we step on the court. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012
As Lawrence Frank watched videotape until his eyeballs bled over the summer, both a luxury and a curse of the lockout, he wasn’t sure what he would get out of Austin Daye in all of the many nuanced categories a coach with Frank’s fanatical devotion to detail demands. But he was pretty certain that if Daye could get even passing grades in enough of them, he’d provide the Pistons with a unique and dangerous scoring weapon.
Those beliefs were affirmed for him in the preseason, when Daye led the Pistons in scoring at 18.5. Then the regular season started and Daye ran in mud for 18 games. He shot 26 percent. He made one 3-pointer in 17 tries. He fell out of the rotation, given a reprieve only by a rash of injuries.
Then when Tayshaun Prince was forced to miss Wednesday’s game with Miami due to a family concern, the door to opportunity was cracked a little wider for him.
Daye charged through, scoring a career-high 28 points and giving the Pistons the kind of effortless scoring they’ve lacked in a 4-15 start against a schedule dripping with playoff teams, and in doing so he lit the fuse for what turned out to be an electric night at The Palace – the kind of night Tom Gores envisioned when he bought the team and spoke of lifting Michigan’s collective spirit. The young Pistons – missing not only Prince, but Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum, as well – couldn’t close the deal, coming from 10 behind in the fourth quarter to lead with under two minutes left before losing 101-98.
The Pistons will walk a fine line against the Miami Heat tonight at The Palace. Nobody makes you pay for turnovers like Miami – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade turn miscues into dunks with dizzying speed – and the Pistons have ranked at or near the bottom of the league in ball security through the first quarter of the NBA season. Yet Lawrence Frank knows that if the Pistons play at a deliberate pace in an attempt to better safeguard the basketball, they’ll be going against a set defense even harder to crack.
“They’re a team that can hurt you in a lot of different ways,” he said. “The thing that many times gets overlooked by the public is they’re one of the best defensive teams in the league. You have to look to score early because playing against their set defense poses problems. If they turn you over, they’re the best at not just two points but three-point plays. Their turnovers, they convert better than anyone in the league.
“It’s a formula for us. We struggle to score. We have to try to get a minimum of 20 opportunities attacking before the defense is set. That’s regardless of who we play.”
Wade has missed several recent games, including Miami’s win over Cleveland on Tuesday, but he traveled with the Heat and is expected to be a game-time decision with a sprained ankle. For the Pistons, the injury report remains the same: Charlie Villanueva (ankle), Will Bynum (foot) and Ben Gordon (shoulder) will remain out.
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The Pistons offered Damien Wilkins nothing but the promise to compete for a roster spot once the lockout ended, an offer he could have gotten from virtually any team in the league. He spent the first five years of his NBA career with the Seattle franchise that relocated to Oklahoma City, enduring a radical rebuilding project in the middle of his time there. The Pistons saw firsthand the dividends those years paid out on Monday night when the Thunder rolled to a 20-point win.
So Wilkins is qualified to speak of spotting signs of a turnaround before any compelling evidence is obvious to most.
“It’s headed in the right direction,” he said after Tuesday’s practice, only the second the Pistons have been able to squeeze in since Jan. 5 given the five back-to-back sets they’ve played since then. “It starts with coach Frank. He does a great job. I’ve never really played for a coach that knows every single play the other team runs and that’s a testament to his hard work, a testament to his film study. He gets it. He understands what it takes to be successful. He certainly has us prepared. It’s just a matter of going out and executing our schemes at both ends of the floor.”
Wilkins had a comfort level with the Pistons in part due to his relationship with Scott Perry, who spent a year with the team in its final season in Seattle as Sam Presti’s assistant general manager.
Players who’ve been through the crucible of repeated playoff clashes hold no secrets. Their souls are laid bare. Joe Dumars and Michael Jordan went at it over four epic playoff series from 1988-91, as the Bad Boys were ascending, reigning and coming down the other side, giving rise to the Bulls dynasty that ruled the NBA for much of the ’90s.
So when they talk today – unless they’re holding cards close to the vest in draft or trade matters – there is no pulling punches.
When the Pistons played at Charlotte earlier this month, Jordan asked Dumars for the scoop on new Pistons owner Tom Gores and his team.
Posted Monday, January 23, 2012
The Pistons are 2-for-2 on nailing it in the lottery, taking Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight in the last two drafts. Oklahoma City showed them the possibilities when you go 3-for-3.
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbook and James Harden – the fruits of Oklahoma City’s suffering through lousy seasons, plucked in the 2007, ’08 and ’09 drafts, all among the top four picks – scoring 68 points despite turning the game over to the bench for the fourth quarter, the Thunder coasted to a 99-79 win after building a 32-point lead in the first half. The win gives the Thunder a 14-3 record; only Chicago, at 16-3, has a better NBA mark. The Pistons, coming off a rousing win over Portland two nights earlier, fell to 4-14.
“They just took it from us,” Lawrence Frank said. “I think our guys wanted to win, but things didn’t go our way, which happens against a high-level team in their building. Once they went on that surge, our spirits were impacted.”
It wasn’t long ago, of course, that the plights of these franchises were reversed. The Pistons went to six straight Eastern Conference finals from 2003-08, while the Thunder – and the Seattle Sonics, before them – were sinking to the bottom of the Western Conference and accumulating all those lottery picks that enabled their turnaround. The last two seasons, while Oklahoma City was winning 50-plus games, the Pistons went somewhere they hadn’t been in a very long while, the lottery.
Joe Dumars remarked when he hired Lawrence Frank that the unusual circumstances of the NBA summer at least gave him the luxury of getting to know his next head coach to a degree that hadn’t been possible in any previous search. As the lockout dragged into late November, he got even more familiar with Frank through the near-daily in-depth exchanges they had on basketball at large and the Pistons specifically.
One of the things they both believed was the necessity for a ground-floor-up immersion in basketball fundamentals for the Pistons.
“We had many conversations before the lockout was over about just how much this group needed a foundation of fundamentals built, rebuilt,” Dumars said. “The accountability that each guy needed that even when things get rough – and they’re going to get rough at times – we can’t waver from that. We’ve got to build this foundation to sustain it long term, so that’s why I say we’ll take our lumps right now and that’s fine. But we’re building a foundation that’s going to last a long time. Right now we’re taking our lumps, but we’ll be OK.”
Posted Sunday, January 22, 2012
Joe Dumars understands there are still additions to be made before the Pistons are ready to re-emerge as a serious NBA contender. But the backcourt of the future, very likely, is already in place. When a balky shoulder knocked Ben Gordon out of Saturday night’s starting lineup, the future became the present. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey comprised Lawrence Frank’s backcourt in their 94-91 win over Portland, blurring conventional pigeon-holing by position as they shared ballhandling and command of the offense.
They scored a combined 42 points on just 25 shots, Stuckey scoring 28, while their assists doubled their turnovers.
“It’s great,” Knight said of playing in tandem with Stuckey. “I can play off the ball, he can play off the ball and we can play off of each other and get feedback off of each other. It’s a great way to play and something I’m sure we’ll look to exploit later on. But it’s definitely good to have two ballhandlers that can both attack and both create for the team.”
The recent history of NBA restricted free agency loudly suggests the home team almost always gets to keep the player if that’s what it desires. There was little question about the Pistons’ desires where Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey were concerned. Joe Dumars was up front throughout last season, as Jerebko and Stuckey headed toward restricted free agency, in maintaining that his full intention was to keep both players in Pistons blue.
A big part of what makes both players so attractive to the Pistons was that each one brings something they have in short supply. With Jerebko, it’s the combination of size, effort, athleticism and abandon he brings to the equation. With Stuckey, it’s the size-strength-speed package in a guard who breaks down defenses routinely to create scoring chances when scripted options shut down.
The Pistons sorely missed the sheer joy Jerebko brings to the game last season, when an Achilles tendon injury suffered in the first quarter of the preseason opener knocked him out for the year. The way he suffered the injury was typical Jerebko: putting the ball on the floor and crashing his way through the paint.
“Love his approach,” Dumars beamed when Jerebko’s name was raised. “You don’t ever have to go into a game and feel like you don’t know what you’re going to get from Jonas. That’s exactly what a guy like that is supposed to do – bring hard-core energy every day. And he does it.
Posted Saturday, January 21, 2012
Some nights it’s been tough to tell what troubled the Pistons more: their offense or their defense. Usually overlooked in the debate was the relationship of one to the other.
When the Pistons turn the ball over – and they came into Saturday’s game with Portland last in the league in ball security – it cuts both ways, negating a scoring opportunity for them and often providing a transition chance for the opposition. When they give up baskets on too many possessions, they wind up taking the ball out of the net and then trying to penetrate a set defense.
The chicken-or-egg debate might not be conclusively settled, but the first half of Saturday night’s 94-91 win over Portland – a salve if there ever was one for a team that had lost four straight and needed some good news to grab on to – gave a pretty good clue: When the Pistons protect the ball, they’re going to give themselves a chance to win games.
They coughed it up just four times in the first half – they average more than twice that – and were rewarded with a 54-point outburst, their highest-scoring first half in the 17 they’ve played. They’ve crested 50 three times this season in first halves and won all of them in a 4-13 start.
Posted Friday, January 20, 2012
The Pistons scored 30 points in Friday’s first half, by which time it didn’t look like the flame throwers stationed near their basket to accompany Mason’s inimitable pregame introductions would be enough to light their fuse.
But Brandon Knight was.
Coming off perhaps the most sluggish offensive half the NBA’s lowest-scoring team had yet played, Knight in the first nine minutes of the third quarter alone scored 12 points, making 3 of 5 shots while – of even greater encouragement – getting to the free-throw line six times and making all of them. In the process, he helped the Pistons cut 16 points off of a 23-point deficit and give glimpses of what they think his future holds.
“We basically just came in (the locker room at halftime) and talked to each other as a team first and then with the coaching staff and tried to take it upon ourselves to be aggressive and come out with a lot more energy, a lot more intensity, a lot more fire and play the way we know we’re capable of playing,” said Knight, who finished with 22 points, one off of his season high.
“As a team, we know when we’re getting better and when we’re not giving effort. For us, it’s easy to gauge. We can tell we’re getting better. We’ve been competing a lot more. We’ve been trying to put it out on the court a lot more. It’s just a matter of doing it for an entire game instead of just stretches.”
Nothing about Walker Russell Jr.’s journey to the NBA was easy, so it figures that when he finally got his first chance it would turn into a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” sequel to get to Detroit.
Russell was headed to Sioux Falls, S.D., with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League when his general manager called him to turn back and head for Detroit. But they’d already closed the airplane doors on his connecting flight from Chicago, so he had to continue on to Sioux Falls. The wakeup call after a fitful half-night of sleep came at 4:30 a.m., then he almost got snowed in.
But he made it to Chicago in time for the connection to Detroit and arrived at the team’s practice facility after the morning shootaround broke up. Lawrence Frank and his staff put him through a crash course and Russell – son of former Piston Walker D. Russell and nephew of former Cleveland Cavs and University of Michigan star Campy Russell – proclaimed himself ready to get thrown into the rotation for tonight’s game with Memphis.
The Pistons put out the SOS because both Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum will miss the Memphis game, at least, with injuries. That leaves Russell as the No. 1 backup to rookie Brandon Knight at point guard.
Remember last season when the Pistons had too many guards and not enough minutes? Yeah, well that’s not a problem any more. The Pistons go into a weekend back-to-back set at The Palace against Memphis and Portland tonight without both Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, leaving Ben Gordon and Brandon Knight to devour as many minutes as they can and opening the door for Walker Russell Jr. – rushed up from Fort Wayne of the D-League – to get immediate playing time.
“His plane lands at 11,” Lawrence Frank said after the morning shootaround. “He’ll get in here and we’ll give him a crash course. Not only will he be ready to play, he’ll play.”
At least the Pistons won’t have to worry about Russell getting lost on his way from the airport. Russell is part of Pontiac’s first family of basketball. He grew up in Oakland County and played his high school basketball at Rochester High.
(Editor’s note: Pistons president Joe Dumars spoke with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois this week about a number of topics, including the rapid development of second-year center Greg Monroe. We’ll have more in the next few days on Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey, Lawrence Frank and the effects of new ownership.)
The adage that center and point guard are basketball’s most critical positions might not be as commonly held as it was before the Chicago Bulls won six titles in the ’90s with the likes of Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley at center and Ron Harper and John Paxson at point guard. But until the next Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Dennis Rodman triumvirate assembles, it’s still not a bad blueprint.
The Pistons, at least, will take their chances with 21-year-old Greg Monroe at center and 20-year-old Brandon Knight at point guard.
Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012
Editor’s note: Pistons president Joe Dumars discussed a variety of topics this week with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois, including the early impressions of 2011 No. 1 pick Brandon Knight. We’ll have more of Joe D’s thoughts throughout the week.
As strongly as the Pistons felt about Greg Monroe when they drafted him in June 2010, they learned things about him during the course of his rookie season that cast him in a new light. They discovered that for all of his basketball skills, and in counterpoint to his on-court stoicism, Monroe’s competitive fire burned brighter than they ever knew. They learned that, at his core, Greg Monroe wanted to be become – and to be remembered – as a great basketball player.
They’re learning about Brandon Knight now.
Posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012
MINNEAPOLIS – Here’s the kind of thing that only happens to 3-12 teams: Anthony Tolliver, as comfortable at the 3-point line so far this season as iguanas in the single-digits temperatures the Pistons awoke to here Wednesday morning, knocked down 3 of 5 – all of them at critical points – to keep the Pistons from a win on a night they dominated for three-plus quarters.
Tolliver has a history of success from the arc, but he’d been in a deep freeze so far this season. He came into the game shooting .267 from arc, making 8 of 30 for the season. Of course. That’s the way it goes when wins come so grudgingly for a struggling team.
“He’s made ’em before,” Lawrence Frank said, with a look that said “it figures” he’d break out against the Pistons, then painfully recalled each of Tolliver’s darts to the heart. “One he got off of a turnover, the second he got off a pull-in on a pick and roll where we went to help and had to recover; the third, again, was off penetration on a kickout. He’s been a good 3-point shooter. That’s why when they play him with Derrick Williams, they park him at the 3-point line.”
So it’s not like Tolliver wasn’t in the scouting report. But against a talented Timberwolves team – yup, the Timberwolves have seven former lottery picks on the roster, including franchise mainstays Kevin Love and rookie Ricky Rubio – you have to concede something.
Editor’s note: Pistons president Joe Dumars discussed a number of topics this week with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois. Today he talks about the character traits shared by Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight.
Joe Dumars and every member of his inner circle watched every second of videotape from every game of the Georgetown basketball season two years ago, and every second from every game of the Kentucky season last winter. Their grasp of what Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight were all about from jump ball to final horn was firm and complete. But while they were convinced of the basketball skill level of Monroe and Knight, the products of their two visits to the NBA draft lottery after a near-decade of title contention that produced the third championship banner in Pistons history and another near-miss, they were equally captivated by the strength of their character.
Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012
HOUSTON – Their first free throw shot came late in the third quarter. Their leading scorer, Greg Monroe, didn’t get on the board until early in the fourth. They allowed an alarming 28 points in the paint in the first half. They were outrebounded by 12 through three quarters.
Yet, somehow, for all that didn’t go right, the Pistons found themselves trailing a Houston team on a three-game winning streak by just six points three minutes into the fourth quarter. And then the Rockets made them pay for all those glaring holes on the stat sheet. Houston scored on five straight possessions – the last two on layups off of Pistons turnovers – while the Pistons were scoring only once, and that workable six-point deficit suddenly ballooned to 14.
“Once we were there within six, that was kind of the breaking point,” Ben Gordon said. “Not kind of – it was. We just didn’t get over the hump to change our luck and get the lead.”
“That’s the same mark, basically, every game,” Monroe said. “Most games, we get it down to about six with some time left and it goes south from there. That’s the time we have to make runs and we have to make stops and get good possessions.
The Pistons, now 3-11, wound up losing 97-80 as Houston scored 19 points off of 20 turnovers and pounded the Pistons for 21 second-chance points thanks to 17 offensive rebounds.
HOUSTON – Lawrence Frank has simple advice when a player’s shot isn’t falling: “You’ve got to think, ‘OK, even if I’m not making shots, how can I impact the game?’ You may not make shots, but there are other areas of your game, for all of our guys, to understand how you can be impactful.”
The advice might be universal, but the application is more difficult for a player almost wholly defined by his shot-making. Austin Daye, for example.
It’s been a ghastly start to the season for Daye, who averaged 18.5 points in two preseason games but has managed 27 total in 13 regular-season games. He hasn’t made a 3-point shot yet, missing 13, and if he misses his next attempt of any type he’ll be shooting 20 percent. He’s also dealing with the effects of a sprained ankle, still an ugly purplish-red though less swollen, suffered Jan. 6 at Philadelphia that sidelined him for a game.
“I have a shooter’s mentality, so even if I miss one I’m going to shoot the next one and try to make it,” Daye said after Tuesday’s shootaround at the Toyota Center, where he had gotten in a complete enough workout to have soaked his jersey with perspiration. “I try not to dwell on it too much. I know I’m in a little slump right now, but I’ve gone on streaks where I’ve hit 11 (3-pointers) in a row, so missing 13 right now is not a big deal. It happens to everyone. I’m just trying to stay mentally focused and stay ready.”
(Editor’s note: Pistons president Joe Dumars discussed a number of topics this week with Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois. We’ll have more throughout the week on Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, some of the team’s other young players, new coach Lawrence Frank and the direction coming from new owner Tom Gores and his team.)
Joe Dumars would prefer to be following his team through the playoffs in mid and late May, not pondering the fates of lottery combinations and ping-pong balls. But if it has to be, then coming away with cornerstones like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight at least makes the anguish of a lottery-bound season bearable. And if the reward for a third trip is a similar payoff, then the Pistons are prepared to endure whatever the quirky 2011-12 season can throw at them.
“What you can’t do is allow any part of the season to force you to start thinking small,” said Dumars, who as Pistons president took over a 42-win team a month before the face of the franchise, Grant Hill, walked away in free agency and turned them into NBA champions within four years. “You always have to look at the big picture – where you’re going as a team, where you want to go as a team and how you’re going to get there. Even through the ups and downs of a tough season, you can’t lose focus, can’t panic, you can’t make a short-term move to try to win a few more games. You stick with your plan and you keep going.”
Posted Monday, January 16, 2012
When Golden State was tagged with a defensive three seconds call late in Sunday’s first half, Ben Gordon, who’d missed the technical foul free throw that results from such a call earlier, didn’t make an immediate move toward the free-throw line. Neither did anyone else. So Greg Monroe, who as a rookie last season clanked almost four out of 10 foul shots, walked right up and knocked down another free throw.
“Nobody was looking like they wanted to take it,” he smiled later. “I’m not going to pass it up.”
When opportunity knocks, expect to see Monroe’s 6-foot-11 presence on the other side, eager to step through the doorway and continue an amazing career progress.
Posted Sunday, January 15, 2012
That wasn’t the way this was supposed to work. The Pistons won Friday at Charlotte , came home feeling pretty good about themselves, and looked to establish a winning streak – modest, but a winning streak nevertheless – by beating a Golden State Warriors team that had to follow the Pistons into Charlotte , where the reeling Bobcats scored a 12-point win on Saturday.
With a four-point halftime lead, the Pistons – on paper, at least, the fresher team, though playing their seventh game in 10 nights with a depleted lineup hardly qualifies them as “fresh” – hoped to pull away in the second half.
But they got left choking on Golden State’s gold dust as the Warriors, transitioning from the run ’n’ gun Don Nelson era to Mark Jackson’s defense-first philosophy, showed they haven’t completely abandoned their running roots.
Posted Saturday, January 14, 2011
The one thing that’s impressed the Pistons most about Brandon Knight? Everything.
More expansively, what’s impressed the Pistons most about their precocious rookie is that there are no holes in his game. Not that he’s a finished product or hasn’t made his share of rookie mistakes or won’t continue to make them.
But there is nothing about Knight’s game – and, more critically, about his makeup – that has anyone saying, “He’s a good player except for …” There isn’t one area that constitutes a red flag or anything that would appear to limit his capacity for realizing the potential the Pistons forecast for Knight when they made him the No. 8 pick in the 2011 lottery after one season running the offense for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats and piloting them to the Final Four.
Posted Friday, January 13, 2012
The Pistons went into Friday’s game with Charlotte 29th in the NBA in scoring. Charlotte entered 30th in points allowed. The resistible force trumped the movable object. The Pistons averaged 83.7 points a game through their first 11. They nearly matched that in three quarters against the Bobcats and led by double digits for much of the game.
After falling behind big in most recent games, the Pistons jumped on Charlotte early – but the seeds for the win were really planted in snow-covered Milwaukee 24 hours earlier.
Lawrence Frank left the stormy Midwest the night before optimistic an offensive breakthrough had been achieved but concerned about defensive breakdowns. Against a team struggling at least as badly as the Pistons – Charlotte came in on a five-game losing streak and lost by 30 at Atlanta on Thursday – Frank’s team outplayed their opponent at both ends in a convincing win they hope is the springboard for better days.
Posted Thursday, January 12, 2012
The Pistons might fray some nerves waiting for the future to arrive, but they got an encouraging dose of what it might look like when it does despite Thursday’s 102-93 loss to Milwaukee. It’s a future dominated by Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, the fruits Joe Dumars has plucked for the anguish of two lottery-bound seasons.
Monroe scored a career-high 32 points and grabbed 16 rebounds – the last two Pistons to reach those numbers: Dennis Rodman and Grant Hill, pretty nice company – while Knight scored an efficient 20. Together, the twin pillars of the Pistons’ future shot 19 of 25.
“There’s no excusing a loss,” Monroe said, “but the effort and how we should play was definitely there tonight. We have to build from tonight, keep playing this way and get better. We have to limit our turnovers. We can’t allow teams to make those big runs and we’ve got to finish games. But the effort we had tonight is the effort we’re going to need every night.”
Monroe continued to exhibit his expanding offensive repertoire and the confidence in his ability to put it to full use, hitting a double-double by the mid-point of the third quarter. He got to the foul line eight times – he made them all; in fact, the Pistons made all 24 of their attempts and the Bucks were perfect in 17 tries. But Monroe also dropped jump shots, made strong moves around the rim and did it all against Milwaukee’s All-Star-caliber center, Andrew Bogut.
Listening to Tayshaun Prince talk about what ails the Pistons after their loss to Dallas the other night, you might have thought what they needed most to snap a five-game losing streak in which they’ve averaged 78 points was a plumber.
The word he kept repeating to describe his team’s offensive woes was “flow.” So what, exactly, does that mean? And how do you fix it?
“There’s a lot of disruption,” Lawrence Frank said after Thursday’s morning shootaround at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center, where the Pistons play the Bucks tonight. “Almost 20 turnovers a game. It’s very hard to get a rhythm when you’re turning the ball over. The second thing is that we’ve allowed teams to shoot a very high field-goal percentage against us. Some of that is the result of our turnovers, some of that is the result of poor defense. When you’re taking the ball out of the net, it’s hard. Then we’re just not attacking the paint consistently. Is that because we don’t know what to do or we know what to do and we’re not doing it or a combination of both? Or we’re trying to do the right thing so much to the point that we’re forgetting to pay the game and it may be symptoms of all three of those things.”
Posted Wednesday, January 11, 2012
When Joe Dumars was grilled the day training camp opened about the decision to bring back Tayshaun Prince, here’s what he said: “Even when you are building a young nucleus, you’ve got to have the right veteran to help those guys take that step. Even when you see young teams, eventually what you hear is, ‘We’ve got to get the right veteran.’ I felt like we had the right veteran here already and did not have to go and look for the right veteran. We feel like he’s the type of guy that will lead the right way under the right circumstances.”
There was code in that last part … “lead the right way under the right circumstances.” It was a tacit acknowledgement that the circumstances weren’t right last season, for sure, and probably beyond that, even. But with the Pistons removed from limbo by the sale to Tom Gores and a new coach in place, Lawrence Frank, who came with a reputation for demanding daily accountability during his stint in New Jersey, Joe D was confident the circumstances were at last right. And that in the Tayshaun Prince he’d mined late in a historically weak first round, he had a veteran who could help turn the ship back away from the iceberg.
But turning the ship is an arduous process. From 1,000 feet above, no movement is discernible even though below deck the crew is straining frantically against the forces of nature’s momentum. That’s where the Pistons are at these days, straining frantically.
Posted Tuesday, January 10, 2012
The Dallas Mavericks visited President Obama on Monday to be saluted for winning the 2011 NBA title. If White House staffers notice some missing silverware, chances are pretty good it was the Mavs who walked out with it. They stole the Pistons blind Tuesday, too.
Turnovers, a persistent problem for the Pistons through 10 games, buried them early against the reigning champions. After committing 10 in the fourth quarter Monday to undermine their shot at a comeback win over Chicago, the Pistons coughed it up seven times in their first nine possessions Tuesday to spot Dallas a quick double-digits lead.
Somehow, despite a series of almost bizarre halftime stats – four rebounds from the starters, and none from anyone other than Greg Monroe, among them – the Pistons still found themselves on the fringe of halftime contention, down 14. But the second half started and the same issue arose: four turnovers in the first three minutes allowed Dallas to push the lead to 20.
At 2-8 through 10 games, the Pistons find themselves groping on offense and leaking on defense, one side of the court’s problems compounding the issues on the other, and that makes it hard for all concerned to keep things in perspective and not allow frustration to drown them.
When Jason Maxiell arrived as a Pistons rookie in autumn 2005, he joined a team coming off two straight trips to the NBA Finals with one title and one so-close-they-could-taste-it miss at a repeat. Ahead of him on the depth chart were Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Dale Davis. Total combined NBA experience: 43 years.
Together, they spanned the gamut of NBA experiences. They’d been high lottery picks or not drafted at all. They’d been traded, cut, injured, hailed and pilloried. Mostly, they’d survived and ultimately all of them had thrived. It was about as rich a learning environment as a young player hoping to establish himself could have hoped to find.
Maxiell has always struck his various Pistons coaches – Flip Saunders, Michael Curry and John Kuester – as a quick study and a hard worker. His teammates have universally regarded him as trustworthy, there when you need him. His production has ebbed and flowed, which explains why his role has fluctuated – sometimes a starter, sometimes out of the rotation. Under Lawrence Frank – at least through nine games – he’s found a consistency of role that suits him as the first big man off the bench.
Posted Monday, January 9, 2012
CHICAGO – Watching the Pistons come together is a little like the old board game “Concentration.” You see a fragment of the picture for a few minutes, and then it goes back into hiding, and then another fragment in the opposite corner comes into focus, only to similarly fade away. That’s the process Lawrence Frank keeps explaining, and circumstances demand it be applied in full public view as the NBA regular season whizzes by like a freight train at an intersection.
The piece of it Pistons fans got to see on Monday against a team as formidable as any in the NBA in the early going was Greg Monroe at the center of Frank’s offense. The Pistons, who came into the game ranked 30th in the league in scoring, groped for points again at times in the face of Chicago’s smothering defense, limited to 34 in the first half and only nine in a fourth quarter that turned a five-point game late in the third into a 24-point dousing. But what success the Pistons had sprung from using Monroe as the central distribution point.
“Greg has been probably our most consistent guy,” Ben Gordon said after the 92-68 loss, the Pistons’ fourth straight, dropped their record to 2-7. “We’ve got to keep going to him and keep milking the cow until everybody else catches up to his play.”
The Pistons were tied with Chicago after one quarter after spotting the hosts a nine-point lead, but allowed the Bulls a 9-0 run to start the second and that was the margin they were behind at halftime. But Monroe’s first-half line was the stuff of a winner with eight points on 3 of 5 shooting, six rebounds and four assists in 16 minutes against as tough a defensive frontcourt as exists led by Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. He finished with 14 points, 10 boards and a career-best six assists despite sitting down the stretch when the Bulls capitalized on a flurry of Pistons turnovers that undermined any shot at a comeback upset.
Posted Monday, January 9, 2012
Only two NBA teams have played teams without a losing record so far this year. The Pistons are one of them. Golden State, the other, shares a 2-6 record with them, beyond coincidence. The Pistons have played the NBA’s toughest schedule so far based on opposition winning percentage. Of the Pistons’ first 10 games, nine of them – all but Cleveland, the opponent for the home opener – was a 2011 playoff team.
Does Lawrence Frank worry that such a daunting early schedule will leave his team, already groping to get up to speed with a new coach who didn’t have the benefit of an off-season or a normal preseason, with a battered psyche?
“No – this is the NBA,” he said Monday with the Pistons about to finish their opening 10-game death march with a flourish, playing at Chicago before returning home for a Tuesday date with reigning NBA champion Dallas, which enjoyed Saturday and Sunday off before a Monday trip to the White House. “I didn’t realize it until some me that we’ve played the toughest strength of schedule in the NBA. But I’ve never said it to our group. You’ve got to line up and play.
Posted Sunday, January 8, 2012
As a trumpeted five-star recruit, Brandon Knight shouldered an incredible load as a Kentucky freshman. He rarely left the court, and the offense always started with the ball in his hands, in what essentially was a six-man rotation John Calipari employed. When he struggled early in the season, questions arose: about the hype that accompanied him in coming from an elite Florida academic school, about his worthiness to follow in the Calipari point guard tradition that included Derrick Rose and John Wall, about his NBA potential.
By season’s end, Knight had led Kentucky to the Final Four on a string of late-game heroics and it was a shocker on draft night when he slipped past Utah at No. 3 and Toronto at No. 5 to get to the Pistons, picking eighth.
Rookie point guards are destined to struggle – Rose and Wall didn’t light up the NBA in their first few weeks, either – but Knight’s challenge was complicated by the lockout. There was no NBA Summer League for indoctrination, no August and September working on strength and conditioning drills with Arnie Kander or basketball skills with Pistons assistant coaches, and only the most rudimentary of training camps.
Posted Saturday, January 7, 2012
The progress Lawrence Frank intends to enter into evidence this season won’t be a straight-ahead, no-deviations process. After putting up back-to-back wins to close 2011 and open 2012, the Pistons backpedaled at The Palace on Saturday against a New York Knicks team that earlier in the week lost consecutive home games to Toronto and Charlotte.
The Pistons were outrebounded, careless with the ball and less than vigilant about protecting the paint – cardinal sins, all, in Frank’s basketball bible. The Knicks outscored them 39-18 in a particularly gruesome second quarter and rolled to a 103-80 win that gives the Pistons their second three-game losing streak of the season.
“This is going to be a series of one step forward, two steps back – or two steps forward, one step back,” Frank said. “This is not representative of who we want to be. We all have to own it, starting with me. This is going to be a long season and we have to figure out all the things that are going to be a part of the solution.”
The Pistons trailed by just a point after one quarter and took a three-point lead early in the second on a Ben Gordon 3-point shot. But with the Knicks ahead 39-35, they blew the game out in a mere 2:40 span by going on a 16-0 run that encompassed just seven possessions. Veteran guard Mike Bibby hit two of his four 3-pointers in four attempts for the quarter during that span, which also included a pair of baskets and a dunk apiece for Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
Posted Friday, January 6, 2012
The Philadelphia 76ers have a roster born to run, featuring coltish athletes like Andre Igoudala, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young. The Pistons enabled their running by turning the ball over and missing shots. If they’d have taken care of the ball a little better and shot it a little straighter, the Pistons might have been able to overcome the handicap of being without their starting backcourt. But 16 turnovers and 36 percent shooting – including an ugly 0 of 10 from the 3-point arc – cut them off at the knees Friday night in Philadelphia, resulting in a 96-73 loss that dropped them to 2-5.
The Pistons were within six points early in the fourth quarter when a stretch of three quick turnovers enabled Philly to blow the lead out to 14 points.
“It’s 68-62 with nine and change left,” said Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, forced to start rookie Brandon Knight alongside Austin Daye – who didn’t get off the bench in Wednesday’s loss to Chicago – because the Pistons were without both Rodney Stuckey (groin strain) and Ben Gordon (personal matter). “We turn it over, they score. … A six-point game becomes a game that gets out of hand. Especially on the road, you want to get the game to the six-minute mark where it’s anyone’s game. Unfortunately, when the dam exploded, it really exploded.”
Here’s the reality of a 66-game NBA season shoehorned into four months: The Pistons practiced on Thursday and flew to Philadelphia, where they will play the 76ers on Friday – the third opposition home opener they will have played already. For the rest of this month, there will be 17 games in the 26 remaining days. After back-to-back games – and the Pistons have seven such sets in January, including the first two of a back-to-back-to-back that spans January and February – NBA teams typically do not practice, though they don’t exactly take the day off, either.
And that leaves a grand total of … wait for it … THREE practice days at Lawrence Frank’s disposal between now and February. For a new coach. Implementing new offensive and defensive systems. After a training camp that lasted all of a week. And a preseason limited to a home-and-home set with Cleveland.
“Yeah, players are upset about that,” Frank joked about the paucity of practices possible.
So Frank must improvise. He’ll utilize hotel ballrooms to conduct walk-throughs. Shootarounds – the morning practices on game days that typically last an hour – have stretched to nearly two hours and involving more video study than the usual edited clips of the opposition’s favorite plays. Those days after two-a-days, when players typically come in to receive treatment and individual instruction from assistant coaches, might also include teaching points.
Posted Thursday, January 5, 2012
Tom Izzo sees a little Bobby Knight in Lawrence Frank. He sees a little Jeff Van Gundy, a little Doc Rivers and a little Larry Brown, too. And, probably, he sees a little bit of himself – a coach who throws himself completely into his job, totally immersed in basketball, and yet a coach who understands that he has to know as much about his players as he does about the game in order to put a team together and have a chance at great success.
They’ve known each other nearly 20 years now. One of Izzo’s closest coaching buddies is Kevin O’Neill, who gave Frank his entrée into coaching by hiring him – on the strong recommendation of Knight, on whose Indiana student manager staff Frank served from 1988-92 – as a staff assistant, making $5,000 a year, when O’Neill was head coach at Marquette in 1992.
Frank spent two years with O’Neill at Marquette and moved on with him for three more at Tennessee, rising to full-fledged assistant coach, before O’Neill left for Northwestern and Frank landed an NBA job with the Vancouver Grizzlies under Brian Hill, now Frank’s assistant coach with the Pistons.
Posted Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The high praise Lawrence Frank accorded the Chicago Bulls this week was more than flowery coachspeak. The Bulls look every ounce a legitimate NBA title contender and the biggest roadblock this season to LeBron James notching the first of the multiple championships he promised South Florida.
Playing suffocating defense to start the game and establish a lead, the Bulls protected it late by executing with a surgical precision offensively, MVP Derrick Rose orchestrating with controlled fury to lead an offense that racked up an eye-popping 31 assists on 40 baskets.
But you want an encouraging sign? The Pistons didn’t shrug their shoulders afterward and concede Chicago’s greatness. There was an undercurrent of keen disappointment, bordering on disgust, in their locker room for not winning and making a bold statement, never mind putting up a better fight.
“I thought we just played terribly,” Ben Gordon said, ever so bluntly. “You’ve got to give them a little credit, but I thought we just had a horrible effort overall. No disrespect to their defense, but I thought we could have done a better job.”
A few stalls down, Jonas Jerebko sang the same song.
Ben Gordon had just finished his fourth NBA season when the Chicago Bulls beat long odds – a 1.7 percent chance – to land the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft. They spent it on Derrick Rose, who became Gordon’s backcourt partner for one season before Gordon hit free agency the following summer and signed with the Pistons.
But Gordon saw enough of Rose as a rookie to make for a valid comparison to the rookie point guard he’ll frequently play alongside in the Pistons’ backcourt this season, Brandon Knight.
Knight must claw his way a long way up the NBA ladder before he can be included in the same paragraph with Rose as a game-changing force, of course, but Gordon spots one critical similarity between them already: the 6 inches between their ears.
Posted Tuesday, January 3, 2012
When Derrick Rose debuted at The Palace on Dec. 23, 2008, it would have taken a fortune teller to predict that less than three years later he would become the youngest MVP, at 23, in NBA history. On that night, the Pistons beat Chicago 104-98 and Rose, going head to head with Rodney Stuckey for the most part, was outscored 40-10 by Stuckey and fouled out in 21 minutes.
Things will be quite different when Rose leads the Chicago Bulls into The Palace tonight – and “leads,” overused to the point of rendering it trite, is precisely what Rose will do for the Bulls, his Chicago Bulls.
“From talking to people who’ve been around him, he’s one of the most coachable guys in the NBA,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said of the 2008 No. 1 pick, a Chicago native who spent one season under John Calipari at Memphis and carried the Tigers to within an overtime against Kansas of winning the ’08 NCAA title.
It’s not as if Joe Dumars and his front office staff are going to be any less zealous scouting college big men in a draft class expected to be rich in them, or cut back in the least in targeting potential frontcourt help among NBA rosters, but the chemistry the Pistons are seeing develop between Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko provides a different level of comfort with their current situation than they might have felt a few weeks ago.
Monroe solidified his status as not only the team’s best big man but a building block for the next generation with his emphatic closing rush to his rookie season, when he averaged a double-double from the All-Star break on. Jerebko opened eyes as a rookie when a rash of early-season injuries created unexpected playing time for the 2009 second-rounder and he embraced the opportunity without a whiff of trepidation.
So far this season, Monroe is averaging 14 points and 8.6 rebounds despite being limited by foul trouble in three of five games while shooting better than 60 percent. Jerebko is averaging 12.6 points and nearly eight rebounds and also shooting nearly 60 percent while displaying 3-point range to go with his breakneck demeanor. In his last two games, Jerebko has grabbed 23 rebounds to help the Pistons reverse an early-season trend of being overwhelmed on the glass.
Posted Monday, January 2, 2012
Lawrence Frank figured he would have to concede one thing or the other to Orlando. Either Dwight Howard was going to wreak havoc against single coverage in the paint or the Magic’s cadre of 3-point shooters would have free reign on the perimeter.
A week ago, the Pistons might have gotten burned at both ends. But Frank’s “work in progress” appears ahead of projections – and way ahead of where anyone might have imagined after the Pistons started the season 0-3, were getting pounded on the boards and giving up far too many easy baskets inside.
The 89-78 win over Orlando on Monday, their second straight, was built on the powerful shoulders of their two undersized reserve big men, Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell, who were instrumental in the Pistons outrebounding Orlando by 11, shooting 12 more free throws than the Magic and limiting one of the league’s perennial 3-point threats to 8 of 22 from the arc.
Forget what the stats say about Wallace (zero points, five boards, a block and five steals) and Maxiell (nine points, two boards, a block and a steal). It was their carriage that turned the game, Frank believed.
When Lawrence Frank was fired 16 games into the 2009-10 NBA season by New Jersey, no one would’ve blamed him had he taken it easy the rest of that winter and spent a little more time with his family. But that would have gone against every fiber of his being, taking it easy. So Frank decided to broaden his horizons by dropping in on NBA and even college coaching staffs to see what new ideas might be out there.
One of his longest and most productive stops was a nearly weeklong stay in Orlando, where his regard for Magic coach Stan Van Gundy grew. Van Gundy gave Frank carte blanche to sit in on team and coaches meetings, practices, pregame locker room talks and film sessions.
“Great respect,” Frank said of his feelings for Van Gundy. “Stan is a great coach. His ability to coach different teams … people forget, when he first took over Miami with (Dwyane) Wade as a rookie, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler – that team really, really struggled, 0-8 (to start the season). Just to see what that group did, he took them to the Finals. On both ends, he’s extremely sharp. I was very, very impressed watching them work and how he coached and taught. I think he’s a tremendous coach and teacher.”