Road Test

Pistons eager to test new lineup, success away from Palace

Can the success the Pistons have achieved since retooling the starting lineup and streamlining the rotation translate into road success?
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The Pistons right now are a little like the garage band that’s finally polished its act, landed a record deal and is ready to go national. The next step is to see if they can sound as good on the road as they do at home.

They’ve won three straight games over four days, punctuated by a four-quarter domination of the Dallas Mavericks, replenished by Dirk Nowitzki’s return to the lineup. Can the success the Pistons have achieved since retooling the starting lineup and streamlining the rotation translate into road success, where the Pistons are 4-17 this season?

“Our confidence should be up, especially after winning three in a row, playing the way we’ve been playing,” said Ben Gordon, who has averaged 15.7 points over the four games since Rip Hamilton was removed from the rotation. “I think a lot of times, that’s a major part of it – having the confidence and believing that you can do it. I think we can go out now and test ourselves on the road and make something happen there.”

The two-game road trip starts with a bang – at Boston. The Celtics, coming off a Monday night win over Orlando, are 31-9 and three games ahead of Miami in the loss column for the East’s best record.

“It’s important,” John Kuester said of the effects that winning have had. “Especially going on this road trip. You can tell by the spirit how our team is coming together. We know it’s a grind. To see them reap some of the benefits of winning is important. Now what we have to do is build on it.”

Kuester’s lineup changes involved making Tracy McGrady the starting point guard, moving Rodney Stuckey off of the ball, and pairing rookie Greg Monroe up front with Chris Wilcox, leaving Tayshaun Prince as the only holdover starter at his customary position. That could change with the return of Ben Wallace, who has missed four straight games with a left ankle sprain and is questionable for Boston, but for now it’s a combination that has clicked.

Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon have been first off the bench, usually late in the first quarter, with Will Bynum and Austin Daye following, usually to start the second quarter.

McGrady’s impact – both in his orchestration of the offense and his aura of unflappable confidence – has been palpable. “It’s affected our team,” Kuester said of McGrady’s infectious confidence. “That’s huge. It trickles down to everyone.”

Stuckey has averaged 18.3 points and made 22 of 41 shots over his four games at McGrady’s side while spearheading the team’s perimeter defense.

Monroe’s dramatic ascent has continued as a starter. Over his last seven games, Monroe is averaging 13.3 points and 9.6 rebounds, made 58 percent of his shot attempts and totaled 18 steals with at least two in every game.

“The production we’ve been getting from all guys who’ve been playing,” Ben Gordon offered as the simplest explanation for the recent turnaround. “You look at Chris Wilcox, a guy who wasn’t playing a lot throughout the season. Greg. Those guys have really been making a difference for us and I think everybody else has been chipping in. Stuck has continued to be consistent, Tayshaun, me and Charlie coming off the bench. We’ve just been playing better together as a team.”

Now it’s time to pack it up and see if it plays as well on the road. If the Pistons can rack up a few road wins over the next two weeks with a schedule that takes them to places like Boston, Orlando, Miami and New York, they’ll have the traction to focus on a serious push over the season’s final months.