True Blue Pistons - April 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 Monday, April 30, 2012
A Path to the Playoffs

Tom Gores didn’t flinch when asked last week what his expectations for 2012-13 were: “I think we better make the playoffs,” he said. “That’s realistic.” It’s a laudable goal, but it’s one that every team in the East will carry into next season with the likely exception of Charlotte – unless lottery form holds and the Bobcats add Anthony Davis, in which case even they won’t look so hopelessly overmatched every night.

Consider this: The eight Eastern Conference teams that opened the playoffs over the weekend are the same eight that got there a year ago. None appear poised to step off a cliff.

Yet the Pistons, after their calamitous 4-20 start, finished 21-21 over the season’s final 42 games. And their mind-set is that there were another handful in those final 42 they should have won – and would have, perhaps, if they hadn’t been robbed of the chance to learn how to win during the blowout-heavy first 24.

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Posted Friday, April 27, 2012

The 2011-12 Pistons season ended Thursday night. The 2012-13 Pistons season started Friday morning. That’s in part the nature of the beast – the NBA is a year-round commitment, like pretty much every professional sport these days – but in part an acknowledgment of the positive vibe that carries the Pistons into their off-season.

“There was a genuine disappointment this morning that we’re not playing this weekend,” Joe Dumars said Friday as he and Lawrence Frank met with the media to wrap up the season and look to the future. “That’s the first step toward turning things around, where you actually believe you’re good enough. I can’t sit here and say we were good enough to be in the playoffs the last couple of years. This off-season is the first one where not only is there an incredible positive feeling going into the off-season, but a genuine disappointment that we’re not in the playoffs.”

Lawrence Frank deflected every question throughout the season regarding the effects of the lockout and how it contributed to the team’s 4-20 start. It’s the same approach almost every NBA coach takes when asked about schedule quirks that disadvantage their teams in more normal seasons – don’t let your players see you latching on to any excuse and open a Pandora’s box. With the season behind them, Dumars at least conceded that Frank, as a new coach, was at a keen disadvantage on a number of fronts.

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Posted Thursday, April 26, 2012

Late in Thursday’s third quarter, at a time when Lawrence Frank normally would be removing starters to catch their breath, he had Jason Maxiell poised to enter the lineup at power forward. But the next dead ball leaked into the slot when an automatic TV timeout was due. So Frank waved Maxiell back to the bench.

That allowed Ben Wallace to grab one more rebound and set one more rib-rattling screen before Maxiell replaced him with 26 seconds left in the quarter, giving The Palace crowd the opportunity to give him one last rousing round of appreciative applause for a career played with indomitable spirit and boundless passion.

It was Frank first off the bench to lead a standing ovation and fist bumps all down the line among Pistons coaches and teammates, all of them wearing blue headbands in his honor.

But The Palace crowd wanted still more. So when they began the chant “We Want Ben!” with 1:30 left in the game, Maxiell yanked Wallace off the bench and flung him to the scorer’s table to check in one more time. He got off a 3-point shot, missed wide left, and when the buzzer sounded, the ball – and the collective heart of Pistons fans – was in his hands.

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It might or might not be Ben Wallace’s last game. Lawrence Frank is leaving nothing to chance: If tonight’s season finale is really the 16-year veteran’s swan song, he’ll go out as a Pistons starter. Over his mild objections.

“He wanted to come off the bench,” Frank said, a blue headband on in honor of Big Ben after the Pistons’ final shootaround of the season Thursday morning. “But that’s a non-discussion starter. He’s starting.”

Frank briefed Wallace on his plans for him a few weeks ago. It included making him inactive for the season’s final two road games – giving Frank a chance to look at rookie Vernon Macklin as part of the rotation – and letting home fans get every last opportunity to see the anchor of the 2004 NBA champions.

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Posted Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A season finale comes with different levels of finality. The overriding focus for the Pistons’ finale has centered on the future of franchise icon Ben Wallace, who possibly could be wrapping up a 16-year career when the Pistons host Philadelphia on Thursday night.

But a typical off-season even for teams not tearing the roster apart sees perhaps a 30 percent churning, which means two or three other players might be suiting up as Pistons for the final time, as well.

Trying to figure out who those might be is a little like handicapping the NBA draft lottery: Everybody has a chance to be outbound, but some are extreme long shots.

For young players with bright futures and team-friendly rookie contracts like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, there is nearly a 100 percent certainty that they’ll be back when the Pistons reconvene for the first day of training camp next fall.

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Posted Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Pistons’ home finale starts 30 minutes later than the typical weeknight tipoff at The Palace. It’ll be an 8 p.m. start Thursday, which should put more backsides in the seats in time for Mason’s rousing pregame player introductions.

This one could hold more intrigue than usual: Ben Wallace could be playing his final game and Lawrence Frank could be considering starting him – Mason: “Buh-buh-buh Ben … Wallace! – to commemorate the occasion.

Frank, for his part, is playing coy: “That is going to be one of the to-be-determined, surprise elements of this season,” he said. “I’ve got to have something in my pocket.”

It’s Big Ben, of course, who holds the biggest unknown in his pocket: Will this really be his final game?

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Posted Monday, April 23, 2012

Much has changed for the Pistons since they lost their season opener Dec. 26 at Indiana. But not everything. In that opener, Indiana crushed the Pistons on the glass, outrebounding them 53-40. The Pistons returned for the 2011-12 road finale Monday night and played the Pacers much tougher, but the backboard again was their undoing.

Indiana outrebounded them by nearly the same margin – 56-42 this time – but did much greater damage on the offensive glass. The Pacers converted 22 offensive rebounds into a season-best 32 second-chance points. Fifteen of those offensive boards came off Indiana’s bench, including five by Tyler Hansbrough, who ripped a David West miss away from Greg Monroe with 30 seconds to go and hit two free throws to put the Pacers ahead by three in a game they would win 103-97.

“The game came down to free throws and rebounds,” Lawrence Frank said. “We gave up 32 second-chance points and we were minus 16 in free throw makes. Just think about all those extra possessions. We still had great opportunities, good looks, had free throws, but all those extra possessions add up and it put us in a situation where it’s a make-or-miss game and, unfortunately, tonight we missed.”

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Posted Sunday, April 22, 2012

The more immediate impact of the Pistons’ 76-73 win over Toronto on Sunday will be felt on draft night, when Detroit – barring a lottery jackpot – will now almost certainly be picking behind the Raptors and a cluster of other teams with winning totals at or near 20.

The more lasting impact, the Pistons believe to their core, will come down the road, when the fealty to winning they showed in the formative stages of Lawrence Frank’s regime will pay dividends as they drive to become a playoff team and, beyond that, an NBA title contender.

“Anytime you can win and get any kind of positive feel from winning, there’s always value in that,” said Ben Gordon, who led a Chicago playoff charge before joining the Pistons three seasons ago. “You might not make the playoffs, but you still want to grind it out to the very end and take every game like it’s your last. That’s what playoff teams do and that’s how you develop into a playoff team – by trying to win every game.”

Gordon was the night’s star, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Pistons overcame a brutal first half in which they scored 29 points to get the win that leaves them at 24-40, two wins clear of the Raptors and New Jersey Nets and tied with Golden State with two games to play.

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Posted Friday, April 20, 2012

Greg Monroe’s rookie season met every expectation Joe Dumars held for him. His second season, especially considering the challenges to it the lockout imposed, has been equally rewarding.

But Dumars is in lockstep with his head coach when he looks to Monroe’s future: There’s so much more ahead of him.

“He took the jump this year we really wanted to see him take,” Joe D told me this week. “He’s given us a post presence, a guy we can throw the ball into, a nightly double-double guy. That has been so good for us and so good for him.

“Now, the message to him after the last game will be, ‘There is more than one jump to take in your career. The first jump is from college to the pros. You’ve taken that jump. You’ve taken the second jump. Now it’s time for the third jump.”

Lawrence Frank, almost out of character for him, spoke similarly a few months ago when talking about Monroe: “The thing that’s so amazing is he has unbelievable upside and growth. He literally is just scratching it. There’s so much more to come. That’s the thing that’s so encouraging. He’s getting better, but he has great upside – he really does.”

“Lawrence and I have talked about this – I agree with Lawrence completely,” Dumars said. “There is more to get out of Greg.”

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Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012

Want to know what a team playing its sixth game in eight days looks like? No, you probably don’t.

Three games, three nights, three different teams. The Pistons were great in beating Cleveland on Tuesday and not so much in consecutive losses to Atlanta and Minnesota for different reasons. A night after allowing Atlanta to shoot better than 60 percent in running up 72 first-half points, the Pistons’ offense betrayed them in falling 23 behind a gasping Timberwolves team Thursday at The Palace before rallying late behind Will Bynum in a 91-80 loss.

They looked very much like a runner cramping up in the late stages of a marathon, which isn’t hard to imagine – their last back-to-back-to-back set of the lockout-altered schedule, punctuating the 6-in-8 stretch, sapped the Pistons physically and emotionally. But they’re as tired of being asked about the schedule as they are … well, tired.

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Posted Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Without their defensive security blanket, the Pistons turned in a performance that sent cold shivers down their coach’s spine. Lawrence Frank sat veterans Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince in Wednesday’s game at Atlanta, the sandwich game of a back-to-back-to-back set, and Atlanta did to the Pistons what the Pistons had done to Cleveland 24 hours earlier.

It can’t be that easily explained, of course. Wallace often doesn’t get off the bench until the start of the second quarter. The Hawks had 39 points by that time.

“Role reversal,” said Lawrence Frank, more terse in his postgame comments than he’d been after any game this season. “One day you play like a king, next day you don’t. I guess Atlanta was very good. The game was very disconcerting.”

The Pistons gave up 72 points in the first half, eight worse than their previous high yield, and trailed by an ugly 37 points, 68-61, late in the second quarter. The Hawks feasted on dunks, layups and unmolested jump shots as the Pistons simply couldn’t muster any of the defensive intensity or offensive magic they used to overwhelm Cleveland in a 39-point win at The Palace on Tuesday. Atlanta led by 41 at one point in the fourth quarter before Walker Russell, who scored a career-high 15, rallied the Pistons to whittle the final margin to 32.

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Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The fire in the belly his team showed in a crushing overtime loss to Chicago pleased Lawrence Frank. But it didn’t necessarily surprise him. He was more curious to gauge their resolve against a team on their plane. Check.

If they’d have counted Cleveland baskets double, it would have been a tie game headed to the fourth quarter. Instead, the Pistons led 100-50.

“For Chicago, you know you’re going to get up for that, but when you have a team that has a comparable record, where neither team is going to the playoffs, you always want to see how your guys come out and compete,” Frank said after the 116-77 win, the most lopsided Pistons win since a 45-point whipping of Milwaukee on Dec. 31, 2007. “I thought our guys came out with the right spirit and energy and played a complete basketball game.”

He’ll feel even better when he hears what his ascendant rookie point guard, Brandon Knight, said when somebody asked him how it felt to be up 50 after three quarters – a margin achieved on Knight’s slam dunk at the third-quarter buzzer to give him a career-best 28 points before he and the rest of the starters took the fourth quarter off.

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A little backsliding after the Pistons registered steady progress over the past two months, the continued hard work of players outside of the rotation and their mathematical elimination from the playoffs converged to give Lawrence Frank the impetus to use the season’s final six games for broader evaluation.

Throw in the season’s second back-to-back-to-back set of games and you get the ideal set of conditions for Frank to shake up the lineup.

Nothing dramatic, at least not for tonight’s game against Cleveland, but Pistons fans will see more of Charlie Villanueva off the bench at power forward, a role in which he flourished by scoring 13 points in Sunday’s overtime loss to Chicago. Jonas Jerebko, who had held that role ever since Jason Maxiell became the starter on Feb. 1 but didn’t get off the bench on Sunday, will serve as Tayshaun Prince’s backup at small forward against the Cavs.

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Posted Monday, April 16, 2012

Lawrence Frank won’t ever take his foot off the pedal, but he is willing to alter course to get to the only destination that matters to him. He said two interesting things after Sunday’s overtime loss to Chicago. One was about competing as hard as the Pistons did in losing to the Bulls every night, not just when a heavyweight shows up and exposes your team to the risk of embarrassment; the other was about sprinkling in a little lineup experimentation in the half-dozen remaining games.

Can you be resolute in trying to win games while also being committed to tinkering to best gauge an untested player’s skills under fire, or see how different two- or three- or four-player lineup combinations work, or how a player who struggles in certain matchups at one position might compensate when moved to another spot?

Frank mentioned two things in particular he’d like to see: Jonas Jerebko getting some minutes at small forward, a spot he played in the first half of his rookie season with great promise; and Vernon Macklin getting a shot at the frontcourt rotation.

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Posted Sunday, April 15, 2012

Before you can foul Derrick Rose, you have to catch him. The Pistons couldn’t, so Rose – the NBA’s reigning MVP for a reason – hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and stomp on the Pistons’ collective heart, which they conveniently left on The Palace court in a game of high passion and drama.

But for a missed free throw here and an elusive rebound there and the runaway Rose, the Pistons were on the precipice of a win that perhaps more than any other would have validated everything Lawrence Frank has worked to institute over a season buffeted by challenge and adversity. Instead, they were left to digest a bitter 100-94 overtime loss.

“We did everything we needed to do to win the game other than win the game,” said Frank, disappointed but not discouraged the way he is when he doesn’t see the Pistons as locked in as they were against the team with the NBA’s best record. “Our guys showed great grit and fight. We made a ton of winning plays. Did we make mistakes? Yeah, so did they. But we fought our tails off. We came in wanting and expecting to win. We made a ton of winning plays and did everything to win the game, but that’s the finishing act.”

Rodney Stuckey was mostly brilliant, scoring 32 points and getting to the foul line 18 times, but it was two misses in the final seconds – he split a pair with 16 seconds left and another with 14 to go – that left the door open for Rose’s heroics. The Pistons’ master plan in such situations, ahead by three, is to foul with less than nine seconds remaining. Rose launched his dagger with eight seconds to go. The Pistons simply couldn’t get to him in time.

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Posted Friday, April 13, 2012

It won’t have any impact on determining this year’s NBA champion, but the most intriguing trade of the season was one engineered by ex-Pistons executive John Hammond. Now general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, Hammond traded franchise cornerstone but often-injured center Andrew Bogut to Golden State for Monta Ellis, pairing him with Brandon Jennings in a backcourt the equivalent of a Porsche running next to a Ferrari.

The Pistons caught their first glimpse of the Jennings-Ellis guard tandem Friday night and … yeah, still intriguing.

Milwaukee scored 113 points and accumulated a staggering 36 assists on 45 baskets – including 23 on 25 second-half baskets, when the Bucks outscored the Pistons 61-50 – in winning by 16 and staying on the heels of Philadelphia and New York in the chase for the last playoff berths in the East.

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Posted Thursday, April 12, 2012

CHARLOTTE – The Pistons trekked through the Southeast Division on a four-game road trip that lets them know where they stand: smack in the middle of the league’s best teams and its worst.

After losing narrowly to Atlanta and being humbled at Miami and Orlando, the Pistons wrapped up their four-game road trip by crushing the woebegone Charlotte Hornets 109-85 Thursday night. The losses to the Heat and Magic left Lawrence Frank in a foul mood, and he challenged the team in Orlando to decide what it wanted to be – the group that started the season on the same lowly pace as Charlotte, going 4-20, or the one that regrouped to go 17-16 afterward.

“These last two or three games, we know we could have played better,” said Greg Monroe, who dropped 25 points, 11 rebounds and four assists on Charlotte in three quarters and then took the rest of the night off. “We wanted to make sure we came out and gave a good effort and everybody did a good job of that tonight.”

So 33 days since they stuffed a road map into Roundball One’s groaning cargo holds and hit the road, the Pistons return to The Palace a little more experienced and a lot more battered but refreshed for their finishing kick by the carrot the NBA schedule maker provided to wrap up their road odyssey, the Bobcats, who earlier this week lost on their home court to Washington by 29. Over those 33 days, the Pistons have taken their three longest road trips of the season and played just four times at home.

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Posted Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ORLANDO – Lawrence Frank knew little of his players’ personality traits four months ago, when training camp was just under way, having never coached any of them in his previous NBA stops. But he knew he’d have to get to know them fast, in whatever ways possible, and concoct inventive ways to forge the team unity he believes is the fabric of NBA success.

Frank talked at length in his opening remarks to the team on Dec. 9 about the importance of developing a bond of brotherhood. When a player hits the floor, Frank expects a footrace among his teammates to help him to his feet.

In a typical NBA season, where more practice time is available and game days aren’t piled on top of each other, there are plenty of opportunities for team bonding to grow organically. In this most unusual of NBA seasons, the schedule squeezed by the desire to fit 66 games into a four-month regular season, Frank has helped the process along.

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Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012

ORLANDO – The fitness industry won’t like this much. All the manufacturers of exercise equipment and those who earn their living as personal trainers won’t want it getting out that Arnie Kander seems to have struck upon a workout regimen that’s at last succeeded in adding bulk and strength to Austin Daye’s frame – and it’s nothing more than the simple pushup.

Or, perhaps, the not-so-simple pushup.

Kander has taken the pushup and built an entire exercise program around it for Daye. In some, Daye will slide one hand on a towel out away from his body while doing the traditional pushup motion with the other hand, then reverse the process. In others, he’ll have to engage in a certain range of activities leading to a pushup.

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Posted Monday, April 9, 2012

ORLANDO – Catching the Orlando Magic without Dwight Howard proved about as big a break for the Pistons as playing the Miami Heat without Dwyane Wade 24 hours earlier. The Pistons went oh-for-Florida, losing a lopsided game for the second straight night to end a stretch of four games in five days as Orlando grabbed a 119-89 win Monday with Howard missing the game due to back spasms.

After more than two months of playing winning basketball and competing hard even in their losses, getting thumped twice left Lawrence Frank … well, “I’m a freakin’ miserable person to be around any time we lose,” he said.

But the message Frank left on the whiteboard inside their locker room echoed the core of his message to the Pistons. On the left side of the board, underlined, was the Pistons’ record over the first 24 games, 4-20. On the right side, in a box, it read “.500” – in fact, the Pistons are 17-16, a game over the break-even point, since their sluggish start.

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Posted Sunday, April 8, 2012

MIAMI – The Memphis Grizzlies did the Pistons no favors. While the Pistons were losing a slugfest at Atlanta on Friday night, Miami was in the midst of having its 17-game home winning streak snapped – obliterated, in fact – by Memphis. So even with Dwyane Wade nursing an ankle injury, Erik Spoelstra had little trouble finding motivational tools.

LeBron James scored 26 points in the first three quarters and Chris Bosh added 22 plus nine rebounds as Miami, fighting with Chicago for the top seed in the East, improved to 40-15 with a 98-75 win. But it was less about superstars and the flashy offensive images their names evoke and more about Miami’s defense. In their last two games with Miami, the Pistons have averaged 74 points.

“Their defense kind of sapped our spirit,” Lawrence Frank said. “We kind of got discouraged. Their defense was so dominant tonight that it impacted us on both ends.”

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Vernon Macklin is happy to be back in the NBA with his Pistons teammates, but he was also happy for the opportunity to spend the last month in the D-League. Fort Wayne’s season ended Saturday night with a win and Macklin came directly to American Airlines Arena from the airport in time for Sunday’s Pistons-Heat game.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I’m glad the guys let me go down there and I’m also glad my teammates actually helped me out and talked to me a lot. All of these guys encouraged me while I was down there so I wouldn’t be down.”

In 10 games, Macklin averaged 14.5 points and 14.3 rebounds, shooting 53 percent and even amassing 25 assists.

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Posted Saturday, April 7, 2012

Success can be a fragile thing in the NBA. When coaches strike upon a winning formula, the reasons to consider tinkering with it must be compelling. The Pistons have played winning basketball since opening the season 4-20, a turnaround that almost exactly coincided with Lawrence Frank’s decision to make Jason Maxiell the starter at power forward and bring Jonas Jerebko off the bench behind him.

The Pistons have, by and large, hit it straight between the uprights ever since on Frank’s blueprint of playing hard, playing smart and playing together – and that’s translated into much-improved defense and winning basketball.

Good news for the Pistons, good news for Pistons fans … bad news for Charlie Villanueva, at least as it translates to an opening to playing time for the third-year Piston who, like so many of his teammates, got caught in the crosswinds of turmoil that upended his first two seasons with the franchise.

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Posted Friday, April 6, 2012

ATLANTA – If it had been a football game, the Pistons would have been gashed by the simple off tackle play. Above all else, the bedrock of Lawrence Frank’s defense-first philosophy is to keep the ball from denting the paint.

The Hawks did it early and often. And they did it late – less frequently, but at great cost – as Atlanta snapped the Pistons’ three-game winning streak, spurting last in a game of runs for a 101-96 win Friday night at Philips Arena.

“Defensive breakdowns,” Rodney Stuckey muttered, his feet plunged into ice water, after a brilliant 27-point performance off the bench in his second game back from a hamstring injury. “It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. We still were in the game, but we fell short.”

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Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012

When the Pistons were resolutely plowing their way to six straight Eastern Conference finals not so long ago, they would make winning comfortably, if not dominantly, on nights they didn’t have their A game routine. They won’t be going to the conference finals this season, and not likely to the playoffs at all, but they’re adopting some of the traits familiar to the fans who packed The Palace routinely all those years.

They should have beaten the Washington Wizards – a 12-win team missing frontcourt starters Nene and Trevor Booker – and so they did. They won by unanimous decision, if not by knockout, leading for the final 46 minutes. They missed 16 free throws, 11 in the first half alone, and didn’t make a 3-point shot until more than four minutes into the second half. They played about five great minutes of basketball, late in the third and into the fourth quarter, to build a 20-point lead and held it together when Washington tried to drag the game out well enough to claim the 99-94 win.

One more thing that recalls their salad days: It was the Pistons’ third straight win and their fifth in the last six games.

“We’re just showing we’re getting better and better,” Jonas Jerebko said. “Even when we don’t play at the top, we came out with a win here. The beginning of the season feels like that was two years ago.”

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Posted Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Everything is down to bite-sized numbers now for the Pistons. Three weeks left in the season. Fourteen games. And one more multigame road trip. It’s a four-game journey through the NBA’s Southeast Division that will start immediately after the Pistons host Washington on Thursday, then fly to Atlanta.

This last extended road trip is the final component of a stretch that began on March 11 with the Pistons playing the first of a five-game road trip that bled into another four-game trek on the heels of a brief stopover at The Palace to host Miami. So far, the Pistons have played 12 games – nine of them on the road – and are a respectable 5-7 despite unexpected hurdles strewn on their course.

Among them are injuries to their backcourt that have knocked Ben Gordon out for three games and all but six minutes of a fourth and cost them Rodney Stuckey for six games and all but seven minutes of a seventh.

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Posted Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Pistons hung three NBA championship banners in The Palace rafters on the wings of a formula that Lawrence Frank is certain to use in his quest to add to that total. It’s a formula that calls for committee work not only on the defensive end, but on the other side of half-court, as well.

He might want to frame the box score from Tuesday’s 102-95 win over Orlando. In winning their 20th game of the season – and their 16th in the last 29 tries after the 4-20 start when they all required name tags and cheat sheets – all five Pistons starters attempted between 11 and 13 shots. All five finished in double figures. Not by coincidence, they combined to shoot 60 percent.

“Any time you get a team, anywhere in the league, that can have that kind of shot distribution, that kind of point production from the guys in the starting lineup, that’s always to their benefit,” Ben Gordon said on a night he returned from a three-game injury absence to score 18 points, dish seven assists and grab six rebounds. “It’s always best when the other team doesn’t know who’s going to have the hot hand or who’s going to make a big shot. When we play like that and share the basketball that way, it’s to our advantage.”

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Posted Monday, April 2, 2012

Lawrence Frank can point to the statistical evidence why the Pistons have gone 15-13 since beating Milwaukee on Feb. 3 to begin their turnaround from a 4-20 start, but without willing heads and hearts nothing else would have much mattered.

“We just continued to play, try to have fun out there, try to get better every day in practice,” Ben Gordon said after Monday’s practice, the season down to its final 14 games. “We understood what kind of season it was. It was a tough season with very few practices. We just continued to work through it and our record started to get a little bit better after that. We’re still not where we want to be yet, but it’s a work in progress.”

Gordon went through Monday’s practice and expects to be ready to play Tuesday when the Pistons host Orlando after missing the past three games with a groin strain. Rodney Stuckey, who missed weekend games with Chicago and Charlotte after leaving early in Wednesday’s win over Cleveland with a sore left hamstring, is not expected back yet. But the Pistons managed to beat Cleveland and Charlotte without Gordon and Stuckey, another measure of their progress.

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Posted Sunday, April 1, 2012

It’s a measure of how far the Pistons have come over the course of Lawrence Frank’s first season that there any fans so much as mildly concerned about the way they won most recently. It took overtime on Saturday at The Palace for them to beat Charlotte, bumping along at a pace that challenges historical NBA lows, less than 24 hours after returning from a whirlwind March road excursion.

And in that game, the Pistons were less than impenetrable defensively, giving up 97 points in regulation to the NBA’s lowest-scoring team, nearly 10 full points over Charlotte’s average.

But it’s been the defensive side of the ball more than anything – and the the thing that would delight Frank more than anything else – that’s enabled the Pistons to post a 15-13 record since their 4-20 start. Whatever roster needs might still remain for the Pistons, whatever familiarity with Frank’s systems and coaching methods might still need to be absorbed, playing at a 15-13 pace over the course of a full season would solidly make the Pistons a 2012-13 playoff team.

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