Shuffling the Deck
Kuester shakes up lineup, but Pistons sputter in 3rd quarter, lose to Memphis
But an early 14-point lead was down to three at halftime. And that wasn’t nearly enough of a cushion when the third-quarter malaise – even with a radically different lineup – struck again. Memphis went on a 12-0 run midway through the quarter to take the lead for good and held on against a late Gordon barrage – all 25 of his points came in the final 13:30 of the game – for a 107-99 win that puts Pistons playoff hopes on life support at 12-26.
“The third period ended up hurting us again,” John Kuester said after the Pistons – last in the NBA in third-quarter scoring margin at minus-3.8 coming into the game – were outscored 30-18 to fall nine points behind entering the fourth. “We talked about it. We talked about being physical. It seemed like they were much more aggressive and getting the calls in that third period.
“It just seems like we’re settling for shots. Some of the looks we’re getting are not great – they’re good looks, but they’re not going in. Our energy in that first quarter … maybe we should make the halftime a little bit longer, go for 20 minutes instead of just 15. There were things I saw that were positive and that’s what we’re searching for right now.”
Hamilton’s fall from the starting lineup to sixth man to out of the rotation was less about his subpar play than it was about finding a workable rotation and give the other players along the crowded perimeter a chance to get the minutes necessary to establish a rhythm.
The rotation was down to a more manageable nine with three starters – Tayshaun Prince (38), McGrady (36) and Stuckey (39) – playing significantly more minutes than usual. Only two Pistons entered the game averaging 30 or more minutes a game, led by Prince at a modest 32.6.
Kuester brushed off any suggestion Hamilton’s inactivity had anything to do with the cacophony of trade rumors involving him to New Jersey as part of the mega-deal involving Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets and Nets in addition to the Pistons.
“Don’t even read anything into that,” he said. “When we put Rodney at the two, somebody has to be put of that position. Right now we’re searching to find a group that can get minutes and get the job done and that’s what we’re trying to do. Everyone has gotten a chance this season.
“(Hamilton) has meant so much to this organization. … We’re monitoring a lot of things that are going on with our team.”
Hamilton, for his part, expressed surprise and disappointment that he didn’t play, but stopped short, despite being baited two or three times, of saying he longer wanted to be here.
“My whole career, I never even thought about it,” he said. “I was always happy here. There wasn’t a thing I ever got caught up in. My thing was I just wanted to play basketball, so I never really thought about it.”
Gordon’s 25 led the Pistons, 12 of them coming from the 3-point arc. McGrady had 16, six boards and four assists; Stuckey 15, seven boards and six assists. Monroe registered his fourth straight double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Zach Randolph (34 points, 17 rebounds) and Rudy Gay killed the Pistons with a combined 60 points on just 30 field-goal attempts.