True Blue Pistons - February 2014
HOUSTON – Since moving into the starting lineup 11 games ago, Kyle Singler is making better than 50 percent of his 3-point shots: 22 of 43. If that comes as a surprise to you, it doesn’t to his NBA opponents.
“The word’s out – Kyle can shoot the basketball,” John Loyer said after Wednesday’s game at San Antonio, where Singler was limited to one attempt – good – by the Spurs. “You saw some of those closeouts to Kyle in the corner. They weren’t closeouts to a foot and a half away. They were closeouts right to his body.”
Singler brings a 3-point shooting touch to a Pistons starting lineup with a great need for that skill. In fact, if they had a little more 3-point punch, it would have been a little tougher for the Spurs to hold him to one attempt. But to label Singler a 3-point shooting specialist would badly undersell the totality of what he brings, which was an NBA-ready game when he arrived prior to the 2012-13 season and has added nuance ever since.
“It’s got to be a part of his game,” Loyer said of Singler’s 3-point stroke, but, “Kyle is going to give your team a lot more than that.”
Posted Thursday, February 27, 2014
Will Bynum went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2005 and spent the next winter in the D-League trying desperately to catch the eye of NBA teams. He got a cameo with the Golden State Warriors, but it became clear to him that if he was to realize the dream tattooed on his left forearm – the NBA logo, inked when he was a young Chicago high school player – he would need to go another route.
It was in France, as he joined his new team Maccabi Tel Aviv in the late summer of 2006, where he got some words of advice that stuck with him. They came from a Hall of Fame-bound coach leading his NBA team in the annual international exhibitions David Stern committed to as part of the effort to globalize the game.
“Actually, you know whose words helped me out a lot was Gregg Popovich,” Bynum said. “We played them on the NBA European tour and he told me to go over there and use that time and work every day and win the championship and keep working on your game and when you come back, you’ll be ready. I used those words as encouragement, motivation.”
Posted Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The championship window might be about to close on the San Antonio Spurs, but they still have some tread on their tires. Off the road after their annual Rodeo Trip, the Spurs broke open a tight game by running the younger Pistons into the ground in the third quarter when they scored 33 points – a whopping 14 of them on the fast break.
To put that into perspective, the Pistons – for whom transition defense has proven troublesome all season – surrender an average of 13.6 fast-break points a game, which is leaky enough to place them 24th in the league. They more than blew their game allotment in that chaotic third quarter alone.
“There were spots really the whole game where they got behind us,” John Loyer said after the 120-110 loss. “I thought when we got our defense set, we were pretty solid. We just gave them way too many layups. A little of it could be fatigue, but you’ve got to look behind you. It takes five guys to get back. We talk about loading to the basketball and there were times we had two or three guys in the backcourt. We just didn’t get back.”
Posted Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The sample sizes on the stats the Pistons have generated in John Loyer’s tenure as Pistons coach are still too small to be conclusive, but seven games is almost 10 percent of the season. So, yeah, inconclusive but likely not insignificant.
And what the turnover numbers say is promising. The Pistons averaged 15.8 turnovers in 50 games before Loyer took over for Mo Cheeks. They’ve turned it over that many times only once since then – 16, in Loyer’s second game – and have cut their turnovers by nearly 50 percent, down to 11 a game.
The Pistons had three single-digit turnover games in their first 50 and have matched that in Loyer’s seven games, including nine in Monday’s narrow loss to Golden State.
“I think it always should be a point of emphasis the whole year,” Loyer said. “If you don’t get quality shots or if you turn it over, you can ignite (the opposition’s) break. Our guys have done a good job. We’ve tried to be solid in our half-court sets and we’ve done a better job of not turning it over when we do get out and run. But to have a good offense, you have to have low turnovers and we’ve done a good job.”
Posted Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Three of the teammates Chauncey Billups considered brothers no longer play in the NBA. He knows he’ll be joining Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton soon enough. But he’s not ready to concede just yet that the clean-up surgery on his left knee last week was enough by itself to chase him into retirement.
“My gas light is on, but I don’t know if I have 15 miles left or 30,” he said. “The light is on, though.”
That troublesome left knee – first diagnosed as tendinitis back in November, when he played only six minutes before limping to the bench at Golden State in the season’s seventh game – finally demanded a more permanent resolution than the rest and rehabilitation they’d attempted to prevent an extended absence. The procedure last week smoothed the rough edges in Billups’ cartilage that were causing pain and inflammation.
Posted Monday, February 24, 2014
The Pistons digested a tough loss Monday, dropping a game that was always within their grasp by eight points when they never trailed by more than five at any point in the second half until a little more than two minutes remained, and now things really get tough.
Four games out of the playoff field and a season-low 11 games under .500, the Pistons hit the road now for a daunting two-game trip to San Antonio and Houston, a collective 44 games over .500. The good news is that the Pistons have been about as successful on the road this season – 10-15 there, 13-19 at The Palace – but playing 16 of your final 25 games away from home when you need to make up as much ground as the Pistons must cover is a long way from favorable.
“Our next couple of road games are going to be tough,” Kyle Singler said after the 104-96 loss to Golden State in which the Pistons scored just six points in the final seven minutes. “San Antonio and Houston, those are two very good teams. We’re going to have to play well and continue our success like we had on the road early in the season. It’s going to be tough, but we can do it, for sure.”
Monday was a weird game, played at a 1970s era pace for the first half when Golden State became the third straight opponent over the past four nights at The Palace to break 60 points by halftime. Yet the Warriors led by just a point, 63-62.
Posted Saturday, February 22, 2014
When Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki entered the NBA as top-10 picks in the fall of 1998, Andre Drummond had just celebrated his fifth birthday. You want Saturday’s Pistons loss to Dallas in a nutshell, there it is.
Two certifiable Hall of Famers made big plays – none bigger than the dagger 3-pointers planted in the Pistons’ collective chest less than two minutes apart early in the fourth quarter – on a night one budding young star who might one day join them in Springfield, Mass., acted his age.
Nowitzki and Carter, both in their 16th NBA seasons, combined to score 42 points to power a Dallas offense that ranks with the league’s elite to 113 points and an 11-point win. The Mavs shot 49 percent and registered assists on 31 of their 44 baskets. A good scheme executed by smart players will dice up even hardened defenses a lot of nights and the Pistons, who’ve struggled on the defensive side of the ball all season, just couldn’t get enough stops to give their own flourishing offense a chance to establish the traction it needed to complete a comeback that kept firing and falling back.
Posted Friday, February 21, 2014
When John Loyer was an assistant coach on Philadelphia’s bench, one of the players he worked out daily was Kyle Korver. Before Friday’s game with Korver’s Atlanta Hawks, with whom he this season has established a new NBA record for consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer made at 123 and counting, Loyer said he considers Korver “the best shooter in the game today.”
By the end of the game – a desperately needed 115-107 Pistons win to snap a three-game skid – Korver wasn’t the best-shooting Kyle in the NBA.
That would have been Kyle Singler, who made 4 of 6 3-pointers to Korver’s 2 of 6 and finished with 20 points, including two dagger triples in the final two minutes.
“It felt great to be in that position,” Singler said. “To be in that moment was awesome and to knock down those shots was great for the team.”
Posted Thursday, February 20, 2014
If the Pistons mount a playoff push, it will be done without reinforcements. The trade deadline came and went Thursday afternoon without a move to add anyone to the roster on another largely uneventful deadline day that saw mostly fringe players swapped around the league.
Their lack of a trade hardly registers as a surprise. Without a first-round pick in the widely anticipated 2014 draft to offer, the Pistons didn’t have great flexibility to pursue roster upgrades. Trade speculation around the league centered on Greg Monroe for his status as a pending restricted free agent and on Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva for their expiring contracts.
But the Pistons have staunchly maintained their view of Monroe as a franchise cornerstone and Stuckey’s contributions off the bench, where he anchors the second unit and is often the focal point of their fourth-quarter offense, will be critical to their playoff drive. Falling out of the rotation while struggling all season to find his 3-point stroke likely minimized Villanueva’s trade appeal.
Posted Wednesday, February 19, 2014
A 17-3 Charlotte run to open the third quarter ended all realistic possibilities for the Pistons to win the game. And if they don’t execute a quick and decisive turnaround with a meat grinder of a schedule awaiting them, that 17-3 run Wednesday night might have done the same to their playoff chances.
In the span of about 27 hours coming out of the All-Star break, the Pistons made their quest for the postseason that much harder, going from one-half game out of the final playoff spot – now Charlotte’s to lose – to 2½ out with 28 games to play. And 16 of those will come on the road.
“It’s two games,” John Loyer shrugged after the stinging loss. “It’s two we wanted to get and two we needed to get, but we didn’t get ’em. So you move on, you figure out your next plan and just go try to win the next game.”
Posted Tuesay, February 18, 2014
When the Pistons and Charlotte Bobcats met on Dec. 20, the Pistons led by 20 in the third quarter and by 14 headed to the fourth. Then Charlotte outscored them 41-17, won by 10 and sent the Pistons into something of a tailspin.
Comebacks like that require a hundred pieces to fall into place, a reality that bit the Pistons hard Tuesday after they went down by 19 in the third quarter.
The return match came nearly two months later with playoff implications unusual for this point of the season. But with likely available postseason berths in the East down to two and the Pistons one-half game behind Charlotte – the teams that came out of the All-Star break sitting eighth and ninth in the conference – even the Pistons weren’t playing the “just another game” card coming into the night.
Posted Monday, February 17, 2014
John Loyer spent his All-Star break pushing a pencil on the changes he’d like to implement on both ends as the Pistons open the final 32 games with a critical two-game set against the team they’re battling for the No. 8 playoff seed.
Any grand scheming is tempered by this reality: He’ll have virtually no practice time at his disposal. The Pistons jump into the NBA’s “second half” – though the reality is they’re almost at the two-thirds pole with 50 games behind them – with both feet. They’ll host Charlotte on Tuesday, then fly to Charlotte immediately after the game for Wednesday’s return match against the Bobcats, who are one-half game ahead of them in the standings but even in the loss column.
“It’s a big game,” Loyer said. “It’s a big series. They’re a team we’re fighting with to get in the playoffs. When you play a team on a back to back it puts added meaning on a normal, regular-season game. We’re going to treat it like a two-game series and try to go get Game 1 and see what happens and try to get Game 2.”
Because the Pistons play five games over the next seven days, including another back-to-back home set Friday and Saturday, the Pistons won’t hold another practice until next Tuesday. So Monday’s late practice – pushed back to 5 p.m. to allow players who’d left town for the All-Star break to use the morning and early afternoon for return flights – went a full two hours, longer than typical for this time of the NBA season.
Posted Friday, February 14, 2014
The Pistons lost a chance to jump ahead of Charlotte and into the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot when they got outscored 27-13 in the final eight minutes and lost by four points to Cleveland in their final game before the All-Star break. It won’t take them long to get another chance.
When the Pistons reconvene on Monday after the four-day break for practice, it shouldn’t take John Loyer long to rivet their attention. They host the Bobcats at The Palace on Tuesday, then get on Roundball One and fly to Charlotte for the return match 24 hours later.
And those two games, when April 16 rolls around and the curtain drops on the NBA regular season, could well determine the identity of the East’s No. 8 playoff seed.
Posted Thursday, February 13, 2014
Next year’s All-Star game is in New York. The year after that, Toronto. That figures as relevant information for Andre Drummond’s travel plans. He’ll be in New Orleans this weekend, but only for the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, not Sunday’s crown jewel of All-Star weekend. If his career arc continues on its current ascendancy, 2014 is probably the last year for a while he won’t be sticking around for the big show.
Drummond hits the All-Star break with averages of 13.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots a game. He leads the NBA in offensive rebounds by a mile over DeAndre Jordan. He’s had 39 double-doubles, second only to Minnesota’s Kevin Love. His 13 games with 15-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and two-plus blocks trail only Dwight Howard, who’s done it 14 times.
Yet think about this: Despite the company he’s keeping, prevailing wisdom around the league is that Drummond has so much more to offer.
Posted Wednesday, February 12, 2014
They’d won five straight at home. Three straight overall. They got up by 13 in the first quarter and their offense was on the same soaring trajectory as it had been in those last three wins, when the Pistons averaged 117 points. They’d weathered an offensive lull and absorbed what they assumed was Cleveland’s best punch, growing the lead back to 10 points after the Cavs had crept within one. They led for the first 46 minutes and were that close to dancing into the All-Star break with a four-game winning streak and plenty to feel good about under the direction of newly installed head coach John Loyer.
And then … well …
“We were up seven going into the fourth quarter and we gave up 34 points,” Loyer shrugged. “I’d start there.”
If the Pistons are going to get to the playoffs – an objective that slipped a little further from their reach with Wednesday’s 93-89 loss, though Charlotte’s loss at Brooklyn means the Pistons remain just one-half game out of the last postseason berth – they’re going to have to win slugfests like this one as well as free-for-alls like they’d won against Brooklyn, Denver and San Antonio their last three times out.
Posted Tuesday, February 11, 2014
It could have been his 100th game, or his 1,000th, as easily as his first, for all outward signs of anxiety John Loyer expressed during Monday’s win over San Antonio, his NBA debut coming on barely 24 hours notice.
His level of involvement, possession to possession, was apparent to anyone who diverted their gaze from the basketball long enough to check out the sideline, where Loyer orchestrated, finessed and exhorted as solid a 48-minute effort as the Pistons have registered in a while.
Asked after the 109-100 win if that was his style, Loyer deadpanned, “It was my first game. I have no style.”
And that’s a pretty good glimpse into who the new Pistons coach really is. He’s going to be low key and self deprecating. He doesn’t do anything to invite the spotlight – he’s as egoless as anyone you’ll ever come across in the business – but it has nothing to do with an aversion to heat. He’ll handle that part of it just fine.
Posted Monday, February 10, 2014
Not much not to like about John Loyer’s first game in the first chair.
The Pistons played hard and they played smart, two traits that young teams often find maddeningly elusive. They were for the Pistons over the season’s first 50 games, for certain, which explains why they came into Monday’s game at 21-29 and outside the playoff field.
Make it 22-29 now and in a dead heat with Charlotte for the final Eastern Conference postseason berth, courtesy of a thorough 109-100 win over a perennial title contender, San Antonio.
They had six players in double figures after three quarters and a seventh one point away. Shots and responsibilities in general were distributed in doses appropriate with the roster’s skill sets. They played sound defense, inside and out, and the decision-making that often left Mo Cheeks with a furrowed brow left little room for criticism.
Posted Monday, February 10, 2014
Trite bromides are never in short supply when it comes to analysis of sports teams. But the ones about chemistry’s role in producing winning basketball teams, yeah. They have merit.
For whatever reason, the Pistons never forged a winning chemistry over their first 50 games. And so the tough call was made to fire Mo Cheeks, a good man who over the last few weeks admitted after what became his team’s calling card – losing games after surrendering leads – that he was groping for answers.
John Loyer takes over now, a man who comes to the job with a lifetime’s worth of preparation. He played for Bob Huggins at Akron and coached under him at Cincinnati and he’s worked for Cheeks, Lawrence Frank and Avery Johnson, among others, during his run in the NBA. He’s coached offense, he’s coached defense and he’s drawn praise for his work with young players.
Posted Saturday, February 8, 2014
Maybe, just maybe, the Pistons are forming an identity. Perhaps, and only perhaps, The Palace is again becoming their fortress.
Their quest to make the playoffs was not only boosted by back-to-back weekend wins over Brooklyn and Denver but also by the way those games were won and where they were won.
The Pistons were 7-15 at home before beating Orlando and Philadelphia a week ago and that home record – and their inability to protect second-half leads – dragged them down and outside of the playoff field. Now they’re 11-15 at home and with their win Saturday, coupled with Charlotte’s loss to San Antonio, the Pistons are one-half game out of the playoff field and even with the Bobcats in the loss column.
The similarities of Saturday’s 126-109 win over Denver, in which the Pistons scored their most points in regulation since a 136-120 win over the same Nuggets in March 2008, and Friday’s 111-95 win over Brooklyn were many.
Posted Friday, February 7, 2014
The Pistons clinched their season series with Brooklyn, making it 3-for-3 against the Nets. If it comes to a tiebreaker for the final playoff spot, they’ll have that in their back pocket. Now let’s see if they get to make use of it.
They came into the game four back of the Nets in the loss column and one behind Charlotte for the last playoff spot in the East. They’ll have to leapfrog at least one of them to make the playoffs and they took the court with exactly that sense of urgency Friday, rolling up 67 first-half points and expanding the lead to 29 late in the third quarter.
“Hang on” should not have been part of the storyline, but it was. Protecting fourth-quarter leads has been troublesome for the Pistons much of the season and it was again. Up 29 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Pistons were outscored 21-6 over the next 11 minutes. The Nets got as close as nine with 1:19 to play before the Pistons closed on a 7-0 run to win 111-95.
Posted Thursday, February 6, 2014
That stuff about 82 games and all of them counting the same? Mo Cheeks is willing to put an asterisk next to certain games. The next opponent on the schedule gets one.
The Pistons host Brooklyn on Friday night and if they’re serious about making a run at the playoffs, beating the Nets is strongly advised. It’s not quite “must win” territory with 34 games remaining, but the Pistons only get so many chances to beat the teams they’ll need to leapfrog to crack the eight-team playoff field and Friday is one of their best.
So are those back-to-back games coming up in two weeks, just after the All-Star break, against Charlotte – home on a Tuesday night, at Charlotte 24 hours later. The Nets occupy the seventh spot, the Bobcats the eighth and the Pistons the ninth in the current Eastern Conference standings.
In essence, that means those games count double. The Pistons are four games down in the loss column to the Nets, who host injury-depleted San Antonio tonight – the Spurs won’t have either Tony Parker or Tim Duncan in addition to Kawhi Leonard – before coming to The Palace. Assuming a Nets win over the Spurs, the Pistons could be either three down or five down in the loss column depending on Friday’s result.
Posted Wednesday, February 5, 2014
ORLANDO – Mo Cheeks juggled a lineup that had been essentially static since Game 8 in mid-November when Chauncey Billups sat with knee tendinitis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope became the starter. On Wednesday at Orlando, the rookie sat in favor of Kyle Singler, a move designed to thwart the fast starts the Magic have had against the Pistons, fueled by Arron Afflalo, in previous matchups.
In that narrow sense, the move worked. The Pistons were tied with Orlando after one quarter. It was the start of the second quarter that derailed the Pistons. With a lineup of Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Caldwell-Pope out against a makeshift Orlando second unit, the Pistons scored one basket in seven possessions, committed two turnovers and shot 1 of 5.
The Magic outscored them 31-17 in the quarter with the Pistons committing seven turnovers and shooting 39 percent. Orlando shot past its 95.9 scoring average with 5:22 left in the game, shot 49 percent and scored 58 points in the paint – a whopping 22 more than its average in that area.
“The second quarter hurt us,” Singler said. “We weren’t able to bounce back, for whatever reason. Why we didn’t play well, I don’t know. I think the turnovers hurt us the most and we never really got into a rhythm after that.”
Posted Tuesday, February 4, 2014
MIAMI – The Pistons won at Miami two months ago, but the Heat had the Pistons on the ropes in the second half when they whittled a 17-point deficit to three. Miami did it largely by ganging up on Brandon Jennings, smothering him 30 feet from the basket and taking big chunks off the shot clock while the Pistons struggled to get into their offense.
Mo Cheeks stabilized the ship that night by having Jennings execute a dribble handoff to Rodney Stuckey and the Pistons wound up winning by 10. Jennings committed six turnovers.
Before Monday’s rematch at Miami, where the Pistons battled Andre Drummond’s foul trouble and the full force of a two-time defending champion bent on avenging their December defeat in a narrow 102-96 loss, Cheeks talked about working with Jennings.
“I’m teaching Jennings how to run his team,” he said. “I think he’s a student – that’s the best part of it – and trying to understand that position instead of just being an offensive player. He’s learning little things about the game, which is pretty fun teaching and watching him show maturity in that area.”
Posted Monday, February 3, 2014
MIAMI – The Miami Heat have won two straight NBA titles and have taken everybody’s best shot since the moment LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed off on their corporate merger nearly four years ago.
So it’s not as if the Heat would fear or dread a playoff matchup with the Pistons. No one is suggesting otherwise. But it’s probably fair to guess the Heat would prefer a different first-round opponent, if it comes to that.
The Pistons beat Miami here in December and did it pretty convincingly, winning by 10 points. Dwyane Wade didn’t play that night, OK, but he misses his share of games and the Heat have managed to do quite nicely without him.
A lot went wrong for the Pistons in Monday’s rematch. Andre Drummond played four first-half minutes due to foul trouble. They missed a lot of point-blank shots. They committed too many unforced turnovers against a team that expertly forces more than its share of miscues.
Posted Monday, February 3, 2014
MIAMI – Josh Harrellson watched his new Miami teammates receive their 2012 championship rings that November but was gone before they doused themselves in champagne to celebrate a successful title defense a few months later.
He might spend a wistful moment or two thinking about what might have been, but mostly Harrellson is thankful for the lessons learned by rubbing shoulders with not only some of the most talented basketball players of his generation but also some of the smartest and most competitive.
“It was awesome,” Harrellson said of his nearly four months spent as a member of the Heat last season. “Those guys are very knowledgeable and they go every day. They don’t take days off. They go out there and practice hard every day they’re on the court and they’re competing just like they do in games. That’s how I think they’re so successful – because it just transitions over for them.
“It’s easy for those guys. Not only LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, but also Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier – players like that have been around the game so long and are very good players. They taught me a lot, too.”
Posted Sunday, February 2, 2014
Tom Gores built a business empire by digging into the numbers that allowed him to see opportunity where others saw failed businesses. So while the ultimate number that matters with his basketball team – a 19-27 record – has caused him frustration for a season that began with playoff expectations, he also understands that the numbers say his Detroit Pistons field the NBA’s youngest starting five.
“We’re not that far out,” he said after Saturday’s 113-97 win over Philadelphia left the Pistons one-half game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. “I think it’s frustrating because we’re better than our record. At the same time, there’s a lot of hope right now. I see a lot of possibilities. We have to come together. We have to gel. I don’t think you could say our team and our players don’t work hard. I think they work hard. So we just have to figure out how to work together.”
Gores watched as young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe dominated Philadelphia’s frontcourt, combining to make 18 of 21 shots, score 43 points and grab 26 rebounds despite playing well under their normal minutes allotment. He also saw rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, like Drummond only 20, spark a third-quarter rally when the Pistons put the hammer down, outscoring the 76ers 36-21.
Posted Saturday, February 1, 2014
It hasn’t happened with nearly the regularity they expected, or at least as they’d hoped, but when nights like Saturday come around and Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith flex their muscles, the Pistons see the team they want to become.
Granted, it came against the Philadelphia 76ers, 3-11 over their last 14 games and destined to be among the most legitimate of hopefuls to land a top-three pick when the NBA draft lottery is held on May 20.
But the Sixers have a solid frontcourt of veterans Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner – all believed to be available and coveted pieces as the NBA trade deadline countdown stands at 19 days – that the Pistons dominated in their 113-96 win Saturday at The Palace.
The tone was set early as the Pistons grabbed nine of the game’s first 10 rebounds and finished the first quarter with 10 offensive rebounds to just four Philadelphia defensive boards. Drummond put up eye-popping numbers despite being limited to 23 minutes by first foul trouble and then the blowout: 22 points, 14 boards and five blocked shots, making 10 of 11.