True Blue Pistons - March 2012

About Keith Langlois
Award-winning journalist Keith Langlois, most recently lead sports columnist at The Oakland Press, joined Pistons.com as the web site editor on October 2, 2006. Langlois, who brings over 27 years of professional sports journalism experience to Palace Sports & Entertainment, serves as Pistons.com's official beat writer and covers the team on a daily basis.

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Posted Saturday, March 31, 2012
Happy Homecoming

The latest Pistons win provides an object lesson in the power of perseverance. Down eight points with less than two minutes left, they rallied to win, the biggest shot – the one that got them to overtime – delivered by an undrafted player who toiled in Europe for a shot at a Summer League invitation that led to a role as the No. 3 point guard.

Will Bynum, given a shot as lingering injuries kept Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon sidelined, hit the game-tying triple with 16 seconds left in regulation. But it wasn’t only Bynum, who the night before didn’t make a shot in eight tries in a loss at Chicago, who displayed the qualities of stick-to-it-tiveness that is what Lawrence Frank wishes the Pistons to embody.

It was Brandon Knight, too, who made his only two 3-pointers of the game in the final two minutes. And it was Greg Monroe, a big man who stripped a guard of the basketball at mid-court after the first of Knight’s late salvos, converting a steal into a three-point play that pulled the Pistons within two points. It was Jonas Jerebko, who missed all of last season with an Achilles tendon injury but played so well Frank couldn’t take him out of the lineup down the stretch of what became a 110-107 Pistons win over Charlotte.

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Posted Friday, March 30, 2012

CHICAGO – Lawrence Frank has proven himself a remarkably resourceful coach in a season the NBA couldn’t have drawn up any better to test his ingenuity. But he’s not an alchemist. With no Rodney Stuckey and no Ben Gordon, his scoring options off the bench are scant. And that, as much as anything the team with the NBA’s best record could throw at them Friday night, tagged the Pistons with their 83-71 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

The Pistons played a sublime first quarter offensively, sprinting to an 18-10 lead and finishing the quarter with 25 points on 58 percent shooting. But with no Gordon to anchor the second unit’s scoring, a group consisting of Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum and Damien Wilkins couldn’t generate much of anything offensively to start a second quarter in which the Pistons shot 20 percent and scored 10 points.

That wasn’t the only reason they lost, of course. They were within four points after a Brandon Knight jump shot with just under five minutes left, then – with their starting unit intact – were outscored 8-0 as they went empty on their final seven possessions. The Bulls grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, outscoring the Pistons 10-0 on second chances.

But playing without two of their most prolific scorers and forcing a second unit with little familiarity to shoulder big minutes against one of the few teams with a legitimate shot at the NBA title took its toll.

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CHICAGO – Among the many things the Pistons love about Greg Monroe is his keen sense of the individual’s place amid a team structure. In a larger sense, to characterize that quality of Monroe’s as “among the many things” sells it short, because it’s really the overarching quality that binds all of his many other attributes that have so endeared the Pistons to their second-year franchise cornerstone.

Quick example: Since his dominant 32-point performance against Sacramento on March 14, Monroe has averaged only 11.3 points, five under his season average. He’s attempted only 59 shots, just north of eight shots a game. That’s less than the 8.9 he averaged as a rookie, when the Pistons never ran plays for him, and almost six fewer attempts than the 13.8 he’s averaged this season.

And …

“A lot of these games, people have gotten some games going,” Monroe told me this week. “Obviously in Denver, (Ben Gordon, who scored 45 points that night) had a game going. (Rodney) Stuckey was playing well up until he had to sit out a couple of games. You have to go with the hot hand. I totally understand that. I just continue to play, do what I have to do. I’m not counting touches or anything like that.”

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Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012

CHICAGO – As Tayshaun Prince stretched out on a chair following Thursday’s practice at Chicago’s downtown Moody Bible Institute, Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey, off to his left, were under the attention of Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander. They were nursing leg injuries – Gordon a groin strain, Stuckey a hamstring – that have dogged the Pistons and pretty much every NBA team this season.

Whether the statistics eventually bear out the notion that the condensed schedule resulting from the lockout led to more – or more specific, perhaps – injuries remains to be seen. But as far as Prince’s body is concerned, the evidence is already in.

“No question,” he said. “The travel and the schedule has a lot to do with it. Just look around the league. Some weird injuries.”

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Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CLEVELAND – It’s not a strategy that can sustain itself for long, but the Pistons lost another guard and won another game Wednesday, the second straight time that storyline has developed amid their endless March road trip.

Two nights after Ben Gordon hobbled to the bench early with a groin injury in a win at Washington, the Pistons overcame the first-quarter loss of Rodney Stuckey to an angry hamstring in an 87-75 win at Cleveland.

Consider the evolution of the Pistons’ offense this season, which grew increasingly reliant on Stuckey’s scoring and ability to attack the paint until losing him to a toe injury 10 days ago. In his stead, Gordon averaged 25 points in three games.

So where do the Pistons, a team that has struggled for offense at times even with a full cast, turn for scoring without both combustible guards?

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CLEVELAND – The Pistons should consider adding orange traffic barrels to their backcourt. Like Michigan’s roads, it appears to be in a permanent state of construction. Rodney Stuckey merged back into the starting lineup on Monday night in Washington after a three-game absence due to a foot injury only to see Ben Gordon take the exit ramp back to the inactive list that same night. Gordon, who played six minutes in the 79-77 win at Washington before exiting with a groin strain, ruled himself out for tonight’s game at Cleveland.

“I don’t feel I can go,” he said. “Pretty much feels the same way it did last game. Last game, I tried to get out there and for six minutes I was kind of just hobbling around, so it’s probably just smart to stay off of it so it doesn’t get any worse.”

The injury, Gordon said, actually occurred during the third quarter of Saturday’s game at Madison Square Garden. Gordon sat out the fourth quarter of that game, though the Knicks rested all of their starters as well with the game out of hand.

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Posted Tuesday, March 27, 2012

WASHINGTON – By week’s end, the Pistons will have been deposited in all four time zones of the lower 48 states over the past 10 days. Their most recent 10 games will have been played in 10 different arenas. They’ll have been on the road – save for the 1½ days they spent at home late last week to swap out suitcases and host the Miami Heat quickly – for a day short of three weeks.

They’re a tired team and one not favored by the standings for postseason reward.

But they’ve already taken some very necessary steps – in the early stages of the season, even their backward steps were necessary ones – and they fully intend to use the season’s final 17 games to take a few more.

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Posted Monday, March 26, 2012

WASHINGTON – A game that revealed plenty about Pistons shortcomings ultimately will be recalled for the resolve and the gravel in their guts that Lawrence Frank has implored them to cultivate. The Pistons had nothing going for them at Washington and yet, through sheer refusal to give up on the idea that they might win anyway, they won anyway.

“It was an ugly, grimy, grindy game,” Frank said after the Pistons won 79-77, trailing from the nine-minute mark of the second quarter until the final minute and by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter on a night 12 seemed like 32. “The first half, the NBA called and they were about to throw us both out of the building. We found a way to win.”

And a pretty thrilling way. For a game that was as ugly as a bruise for most of the first 45 minutes, the final three were worthy of NBA Classics. Rodney Stuckey won it on a step-back 20-footer with 0.2 seconds left, going the length of the court after Nene tied it at 5.8 seconds with the Pistons out of timeouts.

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WASHINGTON – In five games since the Pistons sent Vernon Macklin to the NBA D-League to soak up game experience, he’s posted five double-doubles. The most impressive came in Macklin’s most recent outing, a 24-point, 20-rebound game as Fort Wayne won at Idaho on Saturday night.

After the game, Mad Ants GM Jeff Potter sent Pistons vice president Scott Perry this e-mail: “Vern with 24 and 20 tonight and the nastiest tip dunk I’ve seen all year. Dominated for 48 minutes. Took a huge charge toward the end of the game. He was unreal. Congrats on drafting him.”

The Pistons drafted Macklin 52nd last June, a spot where you roll the dice and hope to get someone good enough to crack the roster. Anything more than that, history suggests, is unlikely. But when a player does what Macklin has done in the D-League, it at least expands the bounds of possibility for his NBA future.

“The best NBA guy who came to play for us was Dahntay Jones,” Potter said of the nine-year NBA veteran who’s been a solid role player for Memphis, Denver and Indiana. “He was dominant. I kind of put Vernon on that level. When you dominate in this league, history shows you’re going to be a pretty good player in the NBA.”

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Posted Sunday, March 25, 2012

NEW YORK – In the nearly three seasons Ben Gordon has played with the Pistons, he’s yet to compile a scoring average that matches any among his five seasons spent with the Chicago Bulls. Even in his first NBA season, when Gordon won both Rookie and Sixth Man of the Year awards, the 15.1 points Gordon averaged – his lowest with the Bulls – beats the 13.8 he managed in his first season with the Pistons, his best since leaving Chicago.

With 75 points in his last three games, all as a starter with Rodney Stuckey out due to a left big toe injury, Gordon’s bumped his 2011-12 average to 12.6. The extra minutes he’s been able to play with a shorthanded backcourt – he’s averaged nearly 35 a game over the last three – have him back in a flow he hopes will carry over whenever Stuckey returns, which could be as soon as Monday night in Washington.

“I’m not going to lie. Especially for a shooter – you ask any shooter – it’s always easier when you have to time to build a rhythm,” he said after Saturday night’s 20-point performance against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, not far from where he starred in high school in Mount Vernon, N.Y. “Hopefully, when Stuck gets back healthy, I can still play alongside him and keep that rhythm going because that will be a dangerous tandem, the way he attacks and me being able to shoot the ball.”

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Posted Saturday, March 24, 2012

NEW YORK – The equation that’s worked so often against the Pistons this season failed to work in their favor when the numbers indicated it should have. Turnovers have been a Pistons bugaboo this season, especially early as they tripped to a 4-20 start, and most recently on Friday night when Miami forced 23 Pistons miscues.

So how come when the Pistons harassed the Knicks into 14 first-half turnovers Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the hosts still went to the locker room with a 12-point cushion? Easy: Check the rebounding numbers. Check the free throws. Check the shooting percentages.

The Knicks dominated across the board, overwhelming the Pistons on the backboards 54-30, getting to the foul line more than twice as often until the fourth quarter when the game was well out of hand, and shooting over 50 percent until the final moments while the Pistons never got to 40.

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Posted Friday, March 23, 2012

The Pistons returned home Thursday after an 11-day sojourn West to unseasonal March heat. Friday they came to The Palace after nearly two weeks away and were greeted by nearly unbeatable Miami Heat.

If they get run out of the playoffs this year, somebody’s going to have to play even better than Dallas did in winning last June’s NBA Finals. The Heat are a better bunch this time around – more cohesive with a full season under their belts, deeper off their bench and every bit as dripping with star power.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were as advertised in Friday’s 88-73 Heat win at the Palace – the one home game the Pistons have in a three-week stretch that sees them in strange beds 18 of 20 nights – as they combined for 56 points.

The Pistons made a game of it, rallying from 26 down midway through the third quarter to nine early in the fourth, sparked by a 9-0 run when it was 70-44. It marked the second straight game the Pistons came from way back – they trailed by 25 in Wednesday’s first half at Denver and led by three with 11 seconds left before losing – but coming back against a team with Miami’s firepower at both ends is hugely problematic.

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Posted Thursday, March 22, 2012

Will Bynum’s daughter Aliya had the good timing to be born during the All-Star break, allowing dad to be there for the birth. Then again, if she’d looked at the Pistons’ schedule, she might have decided to wait a while longer. By the time dad’s team gets back in the early hours next Saturday morning from Chicago, he’ll have missed half of her life.

The Pistons landed on their return flight from Denver at nearly 4 a.m. Thursday after 11 days on the road. They’ll be back at The Palace on Friday night to host Miami and head right back to the airport after the game for another weeklong road trip.

“This is crazy,” Bynum said from Denver, looking forward to getting home – however briefly – to check in on Aliya, big sister and mom. Born Feb. 23, she’ll be 36 days old when the Pistons return from his native Chicago to conclude their next extended trip, and dad will have been gone for exactly half of them. “I’m missing my daughters right now. It’s a crucial time. She’s changing, but it’s part of the business. I just miss her.”

With the Miami game wedged between five- and four-game road trips, in essence it will feel like a 10-game trip. The Pistons will spend less time at home than they did in Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Los Angeles or will in New York, Washington and Chicago in the week ahead.

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Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2012

DENVER – In the Mile High City, Ben Gordon’s shooting range was a mile deep. In a game that seemed over before the first TV timeout came, a shooting night for the ages by Gordon carried the Pistons to an improbable comeback and a 31-point turnaround.

But when the dust settled on this wild west shootout, the Pistons were left with a loss that looked just like the other three they suffered on their five-game trek westward but felt three times worse. As they did against Utah, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Pistons lost to Denver in the final minutes, falling 116-115 after spotting the Nuggets a 25-point lead.

“Sometimes you’ve got to experience a little bit of hell before you can get to heaven,” Lawrence Frank said outside a somber and spent locker room. “It’s a painful, painful way to lose. We put ourselves in a position to win, but we also put ourselves in a position to lose. It’s going to take some painful experiences like this. Our guys busted their tail. We’re getting closer and closer. It’s painful – it hurts like hell. You’re one play away from winning the game and we just couldn’t make that play.”

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Posted Tuesday, March 20, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Lawrence Frank cites 18 statistical categories in which the Pistons have improved since their 4-20 start, but if you had to boil their turnaround down to a single reason it would be hard to imagine a bigger one than Rodney Stuckey’s play.

Which makes Stuckey’s painful left foot injury – specifically, to the joint at the base of his big toe – a damaging blow to hopes the Pistons can continue their upward ascent over the season’s final 21 games.

Throw out Sunday’s overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, in which the effects of the injury Stuckey first sustained last week at Sacramento severely limited his explosive first step and cutting ability, and Stuckey’s numbers jump off the page of late.

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LOS ANGELES – The next step for the Pistons is a tough one. The fact that they’re in position to take it is remarkable. Given how this season began for them – four wins in their first 24 games, with 20-point losses not out of the ordinary – it’s telling that the Pistons’ anguish over losing three of four games on their current Western Conference road swing is genuine. They really believe they should be 4-0.

They were tied at Utah with 5:14 remaining in the first game of the trip, but were outscored 18-3 down the stretch. After a convincing win at Sacramento, where they spotted the Kings a 15-point lead but won by 12, the Pistons were tied with Phoenix with 4:39 to go but were outscored 14-6. Then on Sunday, the Pistons led the Clippers by nine points with seven minutes to go in regulation but lost in overtime.

“We get to the moment of truth and some similar things, we just have to get better at,” Lawrence Frank said. “We’re putting ourselves in these positions. The next step is we just have to learn how to finish games.”

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Posted Monday, March 19, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Arnie Kander tells Jonas Jerebko he’s 100 percent, fully recovered from the October 2010 right Achilles injury that wiped out what should have been his second NBA season.

As far as Jerebko is concerned, he’s something better than 100 percent.

“He says I’m 100 percent and I feel 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve never been a right foot jumper. I feel like my leg is stronger than before. I feel better than before, actually.”

Any doubts anyone might have had that Jerebko is over the injury mentally would have been dispelled by his Sunday outing against the Los Angeles Clippers. In an overtime loss in which the Pistons were in control most of the game and likely would have won if not for a foot injury that limited Rodney Stuckey to well below recent production, Jerebko was a human bowling ball, sending Clippers bouncing as he flew around with typical boundless energy.

In a 29-minute stint necessitated in part by foul trouble to Jason Maxiell, Jerebko earned his time with 14 points and eight rebounds, a blocked shot and an assist. His feisty, physical play helped the Pistons limit Blake Griffin’s damage. Griffin put up 17 points and 11 boards in 39 minutes, but didn’t record a single dunk – the signature play that often serves as a momentum-changing moment.

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Posted Sunday, March 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Just how much Rodney Stuckey in attack mode means to the Pistons became starkly evident on Sunday. That’s because he wasn’t there as the Pistons lost in overtime to the Clippers.

Oh, Rodney Stuckey was in uniform, logging 35 minutes in an overtime loss. But it wasn’t the Stuckey of the last six weeks, the one who’d finally rounded into shape after a rushed training camp and preseason led to an early-season groin injury. It wasn’t the Stuckey averaging nearly 25 points a game and scoring with great efficiency since the All-Star break.

In a game that was theirs for the taking, a limping Stuckey translated to an impotent Pistons offense. They managed only nine points in the fourth quarter, opening the door that should have been slammed hard in the face of a Los Angeles Clippers team that had nothing much beyond Chris Paul’s magic tricks going for them.

That was the difference in the 87-83 loss: The Clippers know exactly who they are and what their formula for winning is. It’s all about Paul, who racked up seven fast assists to stake the Clippers to a 10-point lead and then, when his teammates let him down and he needed to score, put up nine of his 19 points – and nine of the Clippers’ 13 points – in overtime, hitting three long jump shots.

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Posted Saturday, March 17, 2012

LOS ANGELES – However short you’d care to make the list of the NBA’s all-time great dunkers, Vince Carter is on it. Blake Griffin, in only his second season, might already be, as well.

When you pair phenomenal dunkers with Hall of Fame point guards, the effects can be devastating. The lob dunk, once a gimmick, has evolved into high art – high-wire art – and, Frank says, it’s also the most efficient way to set up a scorer in the paint.

“The lob is a very, very important part of the game,” he said. “You think about turnovers that happen in the paint in terms of type of passes. More turnovers happen on direct-line passes to the point as opposed to throwing it up there. Once you’re in the paint, throw it up there. The bounce pass is the slowest pass, the direct-line pass is the most high-turnover prone pass. The lob pass is a great pass.”

Griffin became an immediate sensation as a rookie a year ago for his highlight-reel dunks. Now that he has Chris Paul setting him up, the lob has become an even bigger part of the offense for the Clippers, who host the Pistons in a Sunday matinee. Not just Griffin, but DeAndre Jordan and recent addition Kenyon Martin are all accomplished finishers.

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The Value of Patience

LOS ANGELES – The fact the Pistons have taken a U-turn in their season – since a 4-20 start, they’re 12-8 – didn’t influence Joe Dumars one way or the other when it came to his pursuit of trade possibilities. But it did lessen his disappointment when Thursday’s trade deadline came and went with no bites on the lines he’d tossed into the water.

“There was no shortage of opportunities to make deals that would have done absolutely nothing for us,” he said. “We had some criteria internally that we wanted to hit and if it didn’t hit those, than what are you doing a deal for? If it doesn’t help you financially, it’s not helping you right now and it’s hurting your future, now you’re doing a deal just to say you’re doing a deal. … Does it make it easier that the team is playing well? Absolutely.”

Dumars knows the roster still needs augmenting. There will be deals in the months ahead. Some of the groundwork was laid in the dozens of daily conversations he amassed over the last several weeks leading to the deadline. If the Pistons fail to make the playoffs, they can deal with other non-playoff teams as soon as the season ends on April 26.

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Posted Friday, March 16, 2012
Sunk by the Suns

PHOENIX – The Pistons took a 3-15 road record with them when they began a five-game trip west earlier this week. It’s a mark of how much they’ve grown under Lawrence Frank that that there was muttering in their locker room after Friday’s 109-101 loss to Phoenix that they should have matched those three road wins in the past five days.

Just like their loss at Utah four days ago, it came down to the final minutes with the game hanging in the balance. Just like that game, the Pistons simply couldn’t get enough defensive stops or execute with the necessary precision offensively.

And, critically, they had difficulty keeping the Suns – a weak rebounding team – off of the offensive glass all night. It was a Jared Dudley put-back with a little more than four minutes left, fittingly enough, that gave Phoenix the lead for good.

“A team that’s as offensively talented as this group, putting up the numbers they have been, post-All-Star break” – the Suns are now 8-2 since then – “and it’s the second shots,” Lawrence Frank said after the 109-101 loss. “We shoot over 50 (percent) from two and from three, you think we’re going to win the game. But 22 points off of second shots.”

With Steve Nash orchestrating the Phoenix offense, their first shots are usually good enough to beat you. Nash was in uber-playmaker mode, scoring only five points and taking just two shots – but amassing 17 assists, and all of them in the first three quarters.

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Posted Friday, March 16, 2012
Picking up the Pace

PHOENIX – The Pistons have played the tortoise to the hares of the NBA for several seasons, functioning offensively at a slower pace than most of their peers in the days they were going to the NBA Finals and, more recently, winding up in the lottery.

The short takeaway is that pace is no indicator of success. But it’s more complicated than that. Lawrence Frank wants the Pistons to play faster in large measure because he thinks it suits the speed of guards Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight, and just maybe because they don’t have a lethal break-you-down star in the mold of LeBron James or Kobe Bryant to thrive consistently in a half-court game.

For the first half of the NBA season, it was tough to see the results of Frank’s daily admonitions to pick up the pace in the statistics. The Pistons still ranked 30th in the NBA in pace through their first 24 games and 18th in fast-break points. Now? Since starting the season 4-20, the Pistons are fifth in the NBA in fast-break points and 13th in pace – the number of possessions a team manages over a 48-minute game. The numbers, Frank said, came from assistant coach Charles Klask, whose specialty is statistical analysis.

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Posted Thursday, March 15, 2012
No Deal

PHOENIX – The Pistons didn’t fit the profile of a team likely to make noise at the trade deadline. They aren’t hellbent on making a playoff run – they aren’t in that position just yet – so they weren’t about to dangle draft picks or underutilized young players for veteran talent. They aren’t on the downhill side of a long stretch of contention – they’re two-plus seasons past that point – so they aren’t bloated with veterans who hold obvious appeal to teams eager for a grab at the golden ring.

So Thursday’s trade deadline came and went with the Pistons, like a healthy percentage of NBA teams, as bystanders. That should come as no surprise. All along, another attractive draft choice and perhaps a selective foray into free agency were the most likely avenues to the next leap forward.

If I had to guess, my bet would be that the player who might have generated the most interest among the Pistons was Jason Maxiell. There’s a lesson in that. Trade appeal isn’t normally based solely on talent. It’s based on what a player can offer relative to his contract. In both average annual pay and length of term, Maxiell was a win-win for suitors – one win because he’s playing perhaps the best basketball of his career, the other because no long-term commitment to him was involved.

I can’t tell you if a credible offer was made for anyone, Maxiell included, but don’t confuse Joe Dumars’ lack of activity with lack of interest. He was open for business and willing to deal.

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Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Kings of the Road

SACRAMENTO – The Pistons got what they expected from Sacramento, doubly motivated by the sting of blowing a late lead at The Palace to lose last month and by being embarrassed at home 24 hours earlier by a Golden State team gutted by a pregame trade that sent away two key players.

The Kings’ motivation will now be trebled.

The Pistons, indeed, got Sacramento’s best shot – for 17 minutes. With seven minutes to go before halftime, the Kings already had racked up 48 points and led by 16. Barely more than a quarter later, the Pistons had executed a dizzying 31-point turnaround, leading by 15 with 4:15 to go in the third quarter.

Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Tayshaun Prince had huge games, combining for 95 points. Monroe and Brandon Knight both posted double-doubles, Monroe with 32 points and 11 rebounds, Knight with 10 points and 11 assists. The last time the Pistons came from that far back to win came in the 2009-10 season finale when they beat Minnesota 103-98. And the last time they had two players top 30 points came in a loss to Utah on Dec. 19, 2008 when Allen Iverson scored 38 and Rip Hamilton 30.

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Ripple Effect

The first salvo of the NBA trade season had nothing to do with the Pistons. And yet everything to do with the Pistons.

The first salvo of the NBA trade season centered on Monta Ellis and Andrew Bogut, the headliners who switched cities, Ellis heading to Milwaukee from Golden State and Bogut going the opposite way. There were others involved. One of them was Ekpe Udoh, the player Golden State picked No. 6 in the 2010 draft, leaving Greg Monroe to the Pistons.

In his second season, Udoh has recently taken on a larger role for Golden State – though now you wonder if that was done to showcase him for trade as much as on merit. He’s given indications he will be a very good defensive player and he draws high marks for character. He’ll help Milwaukee, especially with the void created by Bogut’s injury and now his absence.

But had Golden State taken Monroe, this trade would not have been made. Had they traded Monroe, he would have been the headliner, not an enticement offered to seal the deal.

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Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A Man's Man

Before there was the Bad Boys, there were three bad men. Jack McCloskey, Chuck Daly and Dick Harter – three of the best men to ever grace the Pistons – did the heavy lifting necessary when franchises need to be built from the ground up into champions. They were three former military men from America’s greatest generation who conferred the toughness, discipline and integrity they lived and breathed on a franchise that had been adrift before their arrival.

McCloskey and Daly deservedly reaped the glory. Harter, who died Monday at 81 in Hilton Head, S.C., where he lived with his wife, Mari, missed out on the back-to-back championships. But he lived a lifetime in basketball and left an imprint as wide as his smile and as deep as the drill-sergeant’s voice that commanded a room.

“He wore that Marine toughness on his sleeve and it was in a good way,” said Mike Abdenour, longtime Pistons trainer. “I don’t know of anybody I’ve ever come across in NBA circles – players or staff or executives – that has a bad word to say about this man. Respectful, jovial, tough – he enjoyed laughing at himself. That was the beauty of this guy.”

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Macklin to Mad Ants

If there was ever a Pistons draft choice for whom the D-League made a lot of sense, it’s Vernon Macklin. Two-thirds of the way into the lockout-affected NBA season, he’ll at last get the chance.

Plans are for Macklin to debut for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants, the Piston’s D-League affiliate, on Thursday when they host Erie. Fort Wayne then has four more games next week, concluding with a back-to-back set March 23-24 at Idaho, before a lull in its schedule likely would lead to Macklin rejoining the Pistons.

“It will be great,” Lawrence Frank said. “Vernon has worked extremely hard with us. Getting Charlie (Villanueva) back and more bodies, we really wanted to give Vernon more of an opportunity to play. The schedule is conducive.”

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Posted Monday, March 12, 2012
Jazz Give Pistons the Blues

SALT LAKE CITY – The Pistons have lost in all manner of ways during their nine-game losing streak at Utah that dates to November 2002. Add another to the list. The Jazz, last in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage, made seven in the second half alone Monday night and more than doubled their accuracy rate in doing so.

That wasn’t the only reason Utah posted the 105-90 win, but it was a big one and the typical expect-the-unexpected element the Pistons have fallen victim to too many times dating back to the Stockton-Malone days.

“Just one of those places,” said Ben Wallace, who was there for the last Pistons win. “It’s just tough to play here. No matter who they put on the floor, once they step in this building they become gritty and grimy. Whoever puts that Utah uniform on, it doesn’t matter what they did before.”

The game, a rocky way to open a five-game road trip after a hot home stretch, wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the 15-point margin. From early in the second half to under three minutes left in the game, neither side led by more than three points. But Lawrence Frank was never really comfortable – mostly because the Pistons, for as well as they played offensively in long stretches, never could figure Utah out on the other end.

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Posted Sunday, March 11, 2012
See Ya Later Sunday

SALT LAKE CITY – To the rest of America, it’s Selection Sunday. To the Pistons, it’s See Ya Later Sunday. Just when they get the hang of winning at The Palace – four in a row and nine of the last 12 to push a game over .500 for the season at home at 12-11 – they say goodbye to their home court for a good long while.

The Pistons open their longest road trip – 11 days’ worth – since the 2004-05 season at Utah on Monday, then follow up with stops in Sacramento, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Denver. They’ll get back home not long before dawn on March 22, then leave the following night after hosting the Miami Heat for another weeklong trip and four more road games.

That’s nine of 10 on the road and 17 of the next 19 nights in strange beds. Consider the axiom that the first home game after an extended road trip is really another road game and the Pistons, in effect, will be on a three-week road trip with 10 games in 10 different arenas.

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Posted Saturday, March 10, 2012
Saturday Smackdown

The Pistons have to cram enough in their suitcases to carry them through an 11-day road trip that opens with a Monday date at longtime nemesis Utah, but they’d better save room for something they’ve managed to acquire over the last month: momentum.

The team that staggered to a 4-20 start is suddenly 15-26, winners of 11 of their last 17 games and nine of the last 12 at The Palace. They capped a 3-0 week that included exhilarating wins over two playoff teams, the Lakers and Hawks, by smacking the Toronto Raptors silly on Saturday night.

The Pistons average 89 points a game – they matched that in three quarters Saturday night, by which time all five starters already had landed in double figures and the lead was a season’s best 31. They settled for a 105-86 win that was over when the first quarter ended with the Pistons leading 37-14.

Anything not to like about the first quarter, Lawrence Frank?

“That it ended,” he cracked.

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Posted Friday, March 9 2012
Pulling One Out

On the night Charlie Villanueva returned to uniform for the first time in two months, Jason Maxiell made his return to the rotation unnecessary.

Maxiell scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds – his second straight double-double – and the Pistons edged Atlanta 86-85 Friday at The Palace, making them 10-7 since Maxiell moved into the starting lineup on Feb. 1.

The Pistons are also 8-3 in their last 11 home games, a stretch that began after Atlanta beat them 107-101 in overtime on Jan. 27. Friday’s game looked eerily similar to that one, when the Hawks erased a six-point Pistons lead inside the final minute to force overtime. This time, the Pistons – after falling behind by 10 points in the first quarter – held a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter but needed a Tayshaun Prince hoop with 24 seconds left and a final defensive stand to earn the win.

So a pretty good week so far at The Palace – an overtime win over the Lakers on Tuesday night and a one-point squeaker over another certain playoff team, the Hawks, on Friday.

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Posted Thursday, March 8, 2012
Pickup Pick-Me-Up

The level of sophistication in the coaching of basketball that exists in today’s NBA was unimaginable as recently as the ’80s, when Jack McCloskey decided that Chuck Daly could use more than just Dick Harter at his side and added a second assistant coach.

Lawrence Frank’s Pistons staff today includes six assistant coaches plus a video coordinator, each with specific duties. Dee Brown is charged with heading up the player development program, in which all assistant coaches share responsibility and are assigned specific players to help hone their skills. They pore over videotape and statistical analysis to shape a set of drills designed to bring out the best in every player on the roster.

But they knew how to play basketball back before it became as complex as calculus, so it’s best to not throw the baby out with the bath water. Among the elements Lawrence Frank believe was critical to retain? Good old-fashioned pickup games.

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Posted Wednesday, March 7, 2012
What a Win

Lawrence Frank made his usual million mental notations as he reviewed the game tape from Tuesday night’s 88-85 overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers in one of the most stirring wins at The Palace since the Pistons were making annual runs into late May and June.

But there was an overarching theme to the game that made the deepest impression on him: their willpower.

“You just look at all the opportunities there were for us to break, to crack,” he said after Wednesday’s practice while a spirited three-on-three game involving rookies Brandon Knight and Vernon Macklin plus Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva, Will Bynum and assistant coach Dee Brown played out in front of him.

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Stuckey in Stride

In the last three minutes of regulation in Tuesday’s sizzling overtime win over the Lakers, Rodney Stuckey showed off weapons in three areas which have combined to hold back the ascent to All-Star contention that seemed within his grasp as a rookie.

With the Lakers leading by three points at 2:21, Stuckey executed a nasty crossover dribble that rocked Kobe Bryant to his heels before stepping back to drain a 13-foot jumper – the mid-range shot that’s been an inconsistent part of his game.

Stuckey on that shot and his mid-range game: “The shot clock was going down, so I had to create something. That’s what I created. (Mid-range jump shots) are something I do every day in practice, do it after practice with Steve Hetzel and Dee Brown and I do it before games. I’ve been doing it since summertime. It’s something that’s coming to me.”

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Posted Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Super Tuesday

When Tom Gores talked about his vision for the Pistons doing something to lift the spirits of Detroit, it was nights like Tuesday he had in mind. Lots more of them, for sure, but you know what they say about the longest journeys starting with a single step. It will be left to history to judge just how big the step they took with their 88-85 overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers was, but it sure seemed like one giant leap from the perspective of the present.

“It’s special tonight,” Lawrence Frank said, after first issuing the required disclaimer that it only counts as one win. “You’ve got a full house. It’s great to see the type of passion with the Detroit crowd. Our guys, they want the crowds to come back and they want to give them a reason to come back. There’s a direct correlation between having a lot of people in the seats and our guys saying, ‘Give us a chance. We’re going to fight for you and we’re going to make you proud.’ I think they did it tonight. We have to continue to do it to show the fans there’s good reason to support their team.”

This much is sure: The Pistons wouldn’t have won this game a month ago, not only because it was against an elite NBA team, but because the game kept throwing roadblocks at the Pistons. In January, they wouldn’t have had the confidence needed to keep taking the fight to a team as talented, experienced and tested as this one.

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Posted Monday, March 5, 2012

The list of NBA players who can say they’ve been around for all of Kobe Bryant’s career reads like a future Hall of Fame checklist. Among them are Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Ray Allen. And Ben Wallace, a rookie in 1996-97, when Bryant also entered the league.

“From day one, you could see that drive, that willingness to take the big shot, that willingness to step up and guard the best player on the floor,” Wallace said Monday after practice for Tuesday’s annual visit to The Palace by the Lakers. “I’d be lying if I said I knew he’d turn out to be the player he is today, but you can’t say that about any player.”

So, yeah, it was hard to project back in 1996 that one day there would be an honest debate whether Kobe Bryant was the greatest Laker of all-time or whether he had ascended to the same plane as Michael Jordan. But the fact he would become and remain a member of the NBA elite for a long time wouldn’t have shocked anyone back then, either.

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Posted Saturday, March 3, 2012

It started as a shootout, became a slugfest and ended in a beatdown. The Pistons did much they’ll find encouraging Saturday night in Memphis, going toe to tie with a red-hot team for three-plus quarters. But when it came to the final six minutes – the juncture Lawrence Frank calls the “moment of truth” – the Pistons had to deal with the consequences of their sins.

They couldn’t find good shots, didn’t protect the ball, allowed too many transition chances and didn’t guard the 3-point line particularly well. In a game that saw 14 ties and 10 lead changes, a 17-0 Memphis run enabled the Grizzlies to turn a two-point deficit into a runaway 100-83 win.

“The first quarter and fourth quarter were completely different,” Frank said. “Especially against a playoff-tested team like that, it gets tougher and tougher. The last six minutes of the fourth quarter are always more intense, harder, tougher, and everything you do has to be more precise. They were able to raise it another notch and we just couldn’t meet it tonight.”

Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Mareesse Speights hurt the Pistons inside early, Speights scoring 16 points before the midway point of the second quarter. His 10-0 run wiped out a 32-30 Pistons lead and gave Memphis the first breathing room of the game. But the Pistons came back, even taking a six-point lead at a few points of the third quarter, and they were in position to pull the upset over a team that had gone 9-2 in its last 11 games.

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Posted Friday, March 2, 2012

The Pistons rank in the middle of the NBA pack in 3-point shooting percentage but way down near the bottom in attempts. That could change. Charlie Villanueva’s return appears imminent.

Villanueva, who has played a grand total of six minutes in two games all season and has missed the last 31 straight, went through his first full practice since early January on Friday and came out of it highly encouraged by feeling … nothing. As in no pain in the right ankle that flared up on him in training camp mysteriously.

“Definitely progress today,” he said. “Felt real good. I went through the whole practice, didn’t sit out at all. My ankle didn’t bother me. My wind was almost there. Felt good. After practice, I was excited, just because I felt good out there. Nothing was bothering me. That work that I put in paid off.”

Villanueva said he’s got his weight down to 235 pounds, the lightest since his second NBA season in 2006-07.

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Quick Study

The Pistons watched Greg Monroe’s game evolve in the manner of time-lapse photography over the course of his rookie season, adding new components virtually every week. They’re convinced there’s more to come, too. Lawrence Frank spoke last month of Monroe barely scratching the surface of what he can become.

They feel similarly about Brandon Knight.

It’s no surprise to them that Knight averaged three turnovers a game in December and January but cut that by more than half since. He’s committed 19 turnovers in his last 14 games, breathing to life the observation Joe Dumars made about him a month into the season. Tell the kid something once, he said, and the next time you see him you’ll know he’s worked at it.

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Posted Thursday, March 1, 2012
Something to Cheer

Ben Wallace grasped the big picture when he negotiated a contract buyout with Phoenix three summers ago so he could return to the Pistons. He wasn’t coming back to the NBA title contender he left. But he was coming back to the place he made his mark on the sport. He was doing that, in part, to stage his exit from a comfort zone, the city where fans had adored him and he’d exceeded every expectation.

He was also doing it, make no mistake, to help bridge the transition from era to another, just as he had when he came to the Pistons nearly a decade earlier. The challenges were complicated by the transition of ownership, but after this season – definitively his last, as he’s said since training camp – he’ll be able to walk away feeling the franchise is in a good place headed to a better place.

“I like the direction this team is headed,” he said after Wednesday’s convincing win over Charlotte in which Greg Monroe put up 19 points and 20 rebounds, Brandon Knight pitched in 20 points with five assists and zero turnovers, and Rodney Stuckey added 29 points. “I think the future is very bright for the young guys – Greg, Brandon. I wouldn’t have a problem with how I left them. I would be leaving them in a better position than what I found them.”

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