True Blue Pistons - November 2013
Sooner or later, somebody in the morass that is the Eastern Conference outside of Indiana and Miami is going to get hot and string wins together. It could’ve been the Pistons. They might now be on a four-game winning streak. But Friday’s loss to the Lakers was dishearteningly akin to Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls, and instead of soaring into December with the wind at their backs, the Pistons were left to look inward and ask tough questions of themselves after Friday’s 106-102 loss to the Lakers.
Just as the Bulls won at The Palace without Derrick Rose, the Lakers won without Kobe Bryant. Just as Chicago used a 21-0 fourth-quarter run to pull away from the Pistons, the Lakers used a 12-0 fourth-quarter run to wipe out an eight-point deficit with five minutes to play.
And the loss had too much else in common with other season-long storylines – vulnerability to 3-point shooting, free-throw woes and stretches of stagnant offense – that have saddled the Pistons with a 6-10 record, not at all what they expected over the first 20 percent of the season.
“You have an eight-point lead with three, four, five minutes to go, you’ve got to be able to hold that,” said Brandon Jennings, who finished with 19 points and nine assists but missed the first two of three free throws when he was fouled with 16.7 seconds left and the Pistons trailing by three. “Once a team gets rolling and gets momentum, it’s tough, especially for a team like the Lakers, who travel with fans everywhere. Once they start scoring, the momentum changes.”
Posted Thursday, November 28, 2013
The Pistons are bumping along near the bottom of the league in defense, by any way you’d care to measure it.
They are dead last in opponent’s effective field-goal percentage, which accounts for the greater value of a 3-point shot. They’re also last in field-goal percentage by traditional measure, allowing the opposition to make 48.1 percent of shots. They’re 23rd in 3-point percentage and last – again – in 2-point percentage, allowing teams to make 51.8 percent of shots inside the arc, where it figured that the presence of Andre Drummond and Josh Smith would dissuade drivers.
They’re a more reasonable 17th in points per game allowed at 99.9, but 26th in defensive efficiency, a measure of the damage per possession opponents have inflicted. They rank just 22nd in rebounding, though they’re in good company – San Antonio is 21st, Memphis 23rd – and 15th in rebounding percentage, a disappointing number for a team that anticipated it would be dominant in that area.
Posted Wednesday, November 27, 2013
From a seat near mid-court along press row, the change in the Chicago Bulls’ defensive temperament from the first half was apparent within the first three minutes of the third quarter. It looked pretty much the same way to Rodney Stuckey a few feet down the sideline from the perspective of the Detroit bench.
“They just came out and hit us first and never looked back,” Stuckey said after the Bulls turned a first-half romp into a second-half mud bath, holding the Pistons to 26 points in the final two quarters after spotting them 29 in the first quarter alone. “We didn’t start the third quarter out well. We didn’t match their energy in the second half, offensively or defensively, and that was pretty much the ballgame.”
Pretty much. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose, but the Bulls are accustomed by now to playing without the NBA’s 2011-12 MVP. Out for the year with torn knee cartilage, Rose will have played but 49 of 230 regular-season games over the past three seasons when this one ends. And they were still good enough to get to the second round of last spring’s playoffs, where they made life uncomfortable for Miami despite missing not only Rose but Luol Deng and other key players, as well.
Posted Tuesday, November 26, 2013
In a matter of about 30 hours starting at mid-afternoon on Sunday and extending to mid-evening Monday, the Pistons pushed the misery they felt the previous few days off to the side. But if the headline was the two double-digit wins on consecutive days, one on the road, the lasting value to come from toppling Brooklyn and Milwaukee could well prove to be finding the identity of their bench.
Maurice Cheeks has been a daring chemist in mixing and matching combinations over the season’s first month with every player on the roster except rookie Tony Mitchell getting a shot at a spot in the rotation, though injuries opened the door for the opportunities given fellow second-rounder Peyton Siva.
But Cheeks might have found something over the past two wins with Charlie Villanueva’s awakening and Will Bynum’s return from a hamstring injury that cost him five games.
With Rodney Stuckey, the season’s most consistent force, anchoring the second unit along with Kyle Singler, who has endeared himself to Cheeks as surely as he did to Lawrence Frank as a rookie, the Pistons figure to start most second quarters with those two on the court along with Bynum at point guard, running the pick and roll with Andre Drummond and Villanueva spotting up at the 3-point line on the strong side.
Posted Monday, November 25, 2013
The Pistons have many hurdles yet to clear before they’ll declare themselves ready for the next phase in an NBA team’s evolution, but count Monday’s 113-94 domination of Milwaukee as a positive.
One mark of mature teams is taking care of business at home against visitors with fragile psyches. The Bucks came to The Palace fresh off a 24-point home loss – their eighth straight defeat – at the hands of Charlotte, during which their starting five combined for 18 points. That prompted Bucks first-year coach Larry Drew to plug in two new starters – coincidentally, ex-Pistons Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton – in a move he admitted was more groping for a spark than anything.
Middleton helped the Pistons stay close for six minutes. But at 17-14, the Pistons went on a 21-0 run that saw them stone Milwaukee on 11 straight possessions and force six of the Bucks’ 15 first-half turnovers that they converted into 21 points. The Pistons were both selfless when they had the ball and selfish when they didn’t. They finished the first half with six players with at least two assists and eight players with at least one steal.
The balance extended to their scoring: seven Pistons reached double figures before the third quarter was out and all seven finished the game attempting between nine and 11 shots. It won’t be quite like that every night, of course, but it speaks to the formula likely to lead this team to its greatest potential. They don’t have a dominant scorer, but they have several capable of leading them on a given night.
Posted Sunday, November 24, 2013
NEW YORK – There are many issues the Pistons have yet to resolve as they try to make a bunch of new pieces fit, but it certainly appears as if one thing is settled: When Rodney Stuckey comes off the bench, the offense is in his hands.
“He’s our go-to guy once he’s off the bench, no doubt about that,” Brandon Jennings said after he happily stepped aside and let Stuckey dominate in a brilliant second-half run as the Pistons won at Brooklyn 109-97 in a Sunday matinee. “He’s a big spark once he comes off the bench. He can score, he’s really strong and he takes a lot of pressure off everybody.”
Stuckey scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half, leading the Pistons to their most productive half of the season. They outscored the Nets 65-46 after trailing at halftime, including a dominant 34-15 third quarter.
It was their defense that really lit the fuse, the Pistons forcing eight Brooklyn turnovers that led to 10 Detroit points in the quarter. Jennings scored 10 points in the third, scoring two layups off of Nets turnovers and knocking down all six of his free throws.
Posted Saturday, November 23, 2013
Mo Cheeks has a message for anyone studying the Pistons for signs of fissure or implosion: Nothing to see here, move along. And if he senses any residual frustration over the 4-8 start to a season of elevated expectations, well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“In terms of the way we think we should be better, yeah, there is such a thing as good frustration,” Cheeks said following Saturday’s practice, the day after a home loss to one of the teams the Pistons figure to be fighting for a playoff berth, Atlanta. “We’ve got good guys, good energy guys. Today was a good energy day. I don’t let ’em sulk. I don’t let that happen. And I told them, we’ll be better. Every day is a learning day, whether you win a game or lose a game. So we’ve got to learn things from it.”
Friday’s 96-89 loss sprung from a game that had a weird feel to it, the Pistons never really finding a rhythm yet managing to do enough to stay close and actually take the lead with less than four minutes to play before a rash of late turnovers undermined their chances.
Posted Friday, November 22, 2013
For the few players who lingered in the locker room after the toughest loss to figure this season, the frustration and bewilderment was palpable after the Pistons fell 96-89 to Atlanta, a game that will be remembered as the one Josh Smith didn’t start.
“You can see by everybody’s face, nobody likes to lose,” Andre Drummond said. “It’s tough to swallow, but we’ve just got to get back to the drawing board. We can’t keep using the same excuse, that we’re a new team. We’re 12 games in now, so it comes down to us figuring things out and just coming together as one.”
They seemed like anything but a seamless unit from start to finish against Atlanta, and yet there they were, somehow ahead by a point with 3:30 to play despite suffering another shaky shooting night – last in the league in 3-point percentage, the Pistons dipped another notch by making 3 of 13 from the arc – and Maurice Cheeks tinkering with lineup combinations in search of one that might light a fire.
Posted Thursday, November 21, 2013
On one level, Mo Cheeks probably connects very easily to Peyton Siva. Siva spent four years in college, as Cheeks did more than three decades earlier at a time that was the norm, and came to the NBA with little expected of him as a second-round pick, just like Cheeks.
On another level, Cheeks holds a sophisticated opinion of what a point guard must bring to his team, based both on his innate feel for the position and a lifetime of observation both as player and coach. There’s no fooling Cheeks if you’re trying to catch his eye as a point guard.
Siva has clearly passed muster with the Pistons coach, who displayed his faith in the Louisville rookie each of the past two nights, turning to him in competitive games against Eastern Conference teams that figure to be competing for the same playoff spots the Pistons are eying.
Posted Tuesday, November 19, 2013
On a 15-man team, the Pistons have dedicated more than a quarter of their roster spots to point guards. It was the one you won’t find there who saved them.
With Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum out again with leg injuries and Brandon Jennings’ night over early after he gave them 27 minutes while dealing with an upset stomach, the Pistons put the ball in Rodney Stuckey’s hands.
Pretty tidy line he put up, too, scoring 21 points and handing out five assists while making 8 of 14 shots and knocking down all five of his free throws. Stuckey scored 12 straight points as the Pistons stretched their lead from 64-59 late in the third quarter to 76-63 early in the fourth, then he ended the streak by penetrating and firing a perfect laser to set up an Andre Drummond dunk. That gave the Pistons a 15-point lead with 10 minutes to play.
When it got hairy, Carmelo Anthony leading the Knicks with 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to pull the Knicks within five points on three occasions, it was Stuckey who again made the plays that led to the 92-86 win, hitting two free throws and hitting Smith for another layup that both times pushed their lead back to seven.
Posted Monday, November 18, 2013
The Pistons’ West Coast trip was a mixed bag, ultimately falling short of expectations. They snapped their 21-game road skid against Western Conference teams, yet couldn’t produce the four-game split that appeared within their reach until the Lakers pulled away in Sunday’s fourth quarter. Their season has been painted in similar strokes, some good and some bad, which is what you’d expect any team with playoff aspirations might say about a 3-6 record.
There are many good reasons to explain the record, of course, including an unusually top-heavy run of opponents, the rigors of an extended road trip and the backcourt injuries that scuttled their best intentions to use preseason to set chemistry.
Good teams rise above reasonable challenges, though, and the Pistons are already getting a little testy that they haven’t yet dispelled doubts they’ll prove to be a good team – a playoff team, and a feared opponent once they get there – with a little more than 10 percent of the season behind them.
In keeping with the good news-bad news theme of their season to date, here’s a quick look at three things that have gone right and three areas worthy of the Pistons’ attention as the season chugs along to the quarter pole.
Posted Sunday, November 17, 2013
LOS ANGELES – Their game, and the Pistons’ road trip, both ended the same way: with a thud. Both the Pistons and Lakers had one great offensive half. Somehow, that added up to a 15-point Pistons loss, ending their four-game road trip on a low after an exhilarating win at Sacramento two nights earlier.
The Pistons simply didn’t do enough with their 62 percent first half when they dominated in the paint. By halftime, all three of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith were on their way to double-doubles, having combined for 33 points and 15 rebounds. Only Drummond got there (14 points, 13 rebounds), and the double-double that leaps off the box score wasn’t Brandon Jennings’ 23 points and 14 assists – he scored 19 in the fourth quarter as the Pistons fought from 19 down – but the 24 points and 17 rebounds of Jordan Hill, both career bests.
For all the gaudy numbers the Pistons could point to on their side, it was Hill’s monster night, the 16 assists of Steve Blake and the 19 off the bench from Nick Young – especially the two triples late in the third quarter that sparked a 16-0 Los Angeles run – that told the story of a game the Pistons expected to win after Friday’s victory at Sacramento ended their Western Conference road drought.
Posted Saturday, November 16, 2013
LOS ANGELES – There was a bounce in the Pistons’ collective step Saturday as they walked across UCLA’s campus to get to the student gym where they would hold practice, the morning after their rousing win at Sacramento snapped a four-game losing streak, but nobody was lighter on his feet than Henry Bibby.
As a three-time national champion for John Wooden’s dynasty of the early ’70s, UCLA will always hold a special place in the heart of an 18-year-old kid from rural North Carolina who went to the other side of the country on a leap of faith and never imagined the impact it would have on the rest of his life.
“I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I made the decision,” Bibby said, standing on the court not far from where Wooden’s old slate blackboard is encased in glass. “My family didn’t have any idea what I was doing and I don’t know how we came to this conclusion. But there is a God, I guess, and it put me on the right track to where I am today. I would never have gotten there without coming out here to UCLA.”
Posted Friday, November 15, 2013
On a night Sacramento set a contrived record for the world’s loudest indoor arena, it was the Pistons who spoke loudest.
Bearing the burden of not only a four-game losing streak against the cream of the NBA but a 21-game skid in road games against Western Conference opponents, the Pistons started strong and finished stronger in a 97-90 win over Sacramento. The Kings were coming off a 21-point crushing of Brooklyn two nights earlier and looking to give a jacked-up home crowd something to really holler about in addition to their 126-decibel outburst that earned an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.
As good as Drummond was, Josh Smith’s name goes on the Pistons’ marquee for this one. After two subpar games to start their four-game road trip, Smith stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals and four blocked shots.
Posted Friday, November 15, 2013
SACRAMENTO – Ben McLemore and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came out of high school in the same graduating class and were drafted on consecutive picks five months ago, so they’ll forever be linked. Their parallel paths probably will find another common link tonight at Sleep Train Arena, where the two NBA rookies appear headed for a matchup as starting shooting guards.
McLemore moved in Sacramento’s starting lineup in its most recent game, Wednesday’s rout of Brooklyn. Caldwell-Pope seems the favorite to make his first NBA start tonight for the Pistons, who will be without Chauncey Billups for at least one game as he recovers from a case of tendinitis in his left knee.
Maurice Cheeks said at Friday’s shootaround that he hadn’t yet decided between Caldwell-Pope and Stuckey for the starting job, but he said several times in discussing the choice that he liked how Stuckey has performed coming off the bench.
“KCP’s been good, but I like the way Stuckey plays coming off the bench,” Cheeks said. “I like his energy, I like his defense, I like his offense. … I’m comfortable with either guy.”
Posted Thursday, November 14, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO – Maurice Cheeks wouldn’t tip his hand after Thursday’s practice as to potential lineup changes he said would be considered after the Pistons lost to Golden State on Tuesday. But he was perfectly willing to discuss the focal point of practice: defense.
“The whole practice,” he said. “You’re working on offense when you’re working on defense, but it was mostly trying to get out defense back intact.”
The Pistons have played a tougher schedule than 28 other NBA teams, based on winning percentage, and during their four-game losing streak they’ve played three worthy title contenders and teams mostly known for their offensive potency. Over those last four games, the Pistons have played teams with a cumulative winning percentage of .774. Aside from their most recent loss, an 18-point outcome, they’ve been competitive in every game despite their 2-5 record.
Posted Wednesday, November 13, 2013
They might have named the NBA’s annual award for sportsmanship the Joe Dumars Trophy, but that doesn’t mean its namesake doesn’t understand that in creating a championship stew a few spicy ingredients are as necessary as the meat and potatoes.
When Joe D surveyed the landscape last summer, armed with $20 million in cap space, his first objective was to upgrade his roster’s talent level. But another consideration, as he gauged what else a roster filled with recent draft choices worthy of Boy Scout badges could use, was bringing in someone who’d know how to survive in the woods if the handbook got lost.
“This guy’s got an edge now,” Dumars said in July after signing Josh Smith. “And so, Boy Scout he is not. And I think that’s exactly what this team needs right now.”
Posted Tuesday, November 12, 2013
OAKLAND – It’s not like the Pistons were unaware of the possibilities. Brandon Jennings warned of Golden State’s 3-point efficiency 24 hours earlier after Portland bombed 11 triples to put down a Pistons rally.
They knew all about the raucous Golden State crowd. They were equally aware it was their first back-to-back outing of the season. They probably knew that in Golden State’s two other home games this season, they led at some point by at least 27 points. And of course they knew about the millstone of their 20-game road losing streak to Western Conference teams.
So they knew what might happen. But they probably never imagined it would get that bad, that fast. And when the 113-95 outcome was mercifully over, the Pistons pointed the finger right at the mirror.
Posted Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Even before Maurice Cheeks knew the composition of his roster, he said he wanted a team that forced turnovers and got easy points in transition. Then the Pistons signed Josh Smith to play small forward next to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, giving them one of the NBA’s most powerful frontcourts, and Cheeks naturally anticipated an offense that would do much of its damage near the rim.
That part of the blueprint couldn’t be hewing to form with much more accuracy. The Pistons lead the NBA in steals (10.2) per game, they’re No. 5 at forcing turnovers (18.2), No. 2 in fast-break points (18.2) and No. 1 at scoring in the paint (52.0).
But Cheeks also figured the big and athletic frontcourt would make the Pistons a formidable defensive team. And there’s still ample reason to believe that will be the case. They’ve only played six games and their four losses are to teams with a cumulative 21-7 record. Yet the numbers that show promise in their ability to create turnovers, score in transition and near the rim also paint a bleak picture of their defense so far.
Posted Monday, November 11, 2013
PORTLAND – If Portland was the frying pan, Golden State might be the fire.
The Pistons expected their defense to carry them while they figured out how best to use their jumbo frontcourt and how their new backcourt pieces would fit together offensively. For all the hand-wringing about their lack of perimeter shooting, offense simply hasn’t been the issue so far.
The Pistons started their four-game Western Conference road trip hovering in or very near the top 10 in offensive efficiency (eighth) and scoring (12th), but in or near the bottom third in points allowed (22nd) and defensive efficiency (19th).
Alas, those defensive numbers took a hit Monday at Portland, where the Blazers scored 107 points in the game’s first 44 minutes before the Pistons – maybe – figured ’em out. Portland was up 13 at that point. The Pistons rallied to pull within four and had two chances to get closer, but wound up losing 109-103.
Posted Monday, November 11, 2013
PORTLAND – Brandon Jennings spotted his teammates two games but still leads them in steals after five games with 10. Some people might be impressed by that. Mo Cheeks doesn’t figure to be one of them.
“He tells me all the time, he’s top five in steals in history,” Jennings laughed as the Pistons prepared to play Portland on Monday night to start a four-game trek down the Pacific Coast that ends Sunday night in Los Angeles. “I hear it every day.”
Indeed, Cheeks is No. 5 on the NBA’s all-time steals list, sandwiched between a virtual Mount Rushmore of NBA history: John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan and Gary Payton ahead of him; Scottie Pippen, Julius Erving, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon on his heels.
Posted Sunday, November 10, 2013
Their fall term in its infancy, the Pistons are already staring at their final examination.
Five games into a regular season begun on the heels of a preseason that didn’t pass muster due to injuries, the Pistons next face the most severe test of an NBA team’s mettle: the extended road trip.
In the meat of Chauncey Billups’ first tour of Pistons duty, treks like the ones the Pistons embarked upon today – leaving for Portland, where they’ll launch a four-game trip spanning a week against the Trail Blazers on Monday night – were looked upon with relish. Those Pistons embraced the challenge of the road. Nothing satisfied them more than that moment when a hostile arena grew eerily still, the issue of superiority settled in the minds of the home team and their fans.
Posted Saturday, November 9, 2013
Tom Gores and Jalen Rose, sons of Michigan who’ve done well for themselves, are teaming up to do good for Detroit.
The Pistons owner and the former University of Michigan and NBA basketball star see a critical need for improving the lives of children who lack the support systems that allowed them to overcome their own humble beginnings, Gores near Flint and Rose in Detroit.
Rose launched the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy two years ago as a tuition-free public charter school in the heart of Detroit. This week, Gores and his wife Holly became the academy’s largest individual donor, Rose said, with a $250,000 gift that will go toward improving facilities and recruiting and retaining faculty and staff.
Posted Friday, November 8, 2013
The overtime loss at Memphis stung badly. A week later, it stings worse. The Pistons played three NBA title contenders in the season’s first 10 games, which explains while they’ll lug a 2-3 record with them to the West Coast to open a four-game road trek Monday at Portland.
Two or three months from now, maybe it won’t much matter. But in the here and now, a young team robbed by injury of the preseason acclimation process sure could have used the psyche massage that a winning record and a signature road win over a playoff-tested team like the Grizzlies would have provided.
As in Tuesday’s loss to Indiana – which remains the NBA’s lone unbeaten team, now at 6-0 – Oklahoma City led the majority of Friday’s game but never really seized control. The Pistons were four down with nine minutes to play despite a foul-plagued, low-impact game from Andre Drummond (four points, three boards, 23 minutes) and another wayward 3-point shooting night.
But just as Indiana’s Paul George kept making plays to keep them at bay, so did OKC’s Kevin Durant (37 points on only 15 shots, but 17 of 19 free throws) in a 119-110 win.
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013
Oklahoma City won 23 games the year Philadelphia fired Maurice Cheeks 23 games into its season. The next year under Scott Brooks and his new lead assistant, Cheeks, the Thunder won 50 games.
It was Kevin Durant’s third year and Russell Westbrook’s second, that 2009-10 season, and Cheeks will be the first to tell you that the radical U-turn OKC navigated had much more to do with their transcendent talents than did the addition of an assistant coach.
But down in Oklahoma City, which comes to The Palace on Friday night, they’ll tell you Cheeks’ steady hand helped nurture their young stars and moved them down the path to stardom at an accelerated pace. His presence – the calming aura Cheeks projects – struck just the right note with players who already possessed the drive required of greatness.
Posted Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Maurice Cheeks faced a quandary. He needed more shooting in his lineup, he knew that much, and he was pretty sure that nobody offered more of it than Gigi Datome. But how to find minutes for him?
Josh Smith was the prize of Pistons free agency over a transformational summer and his ability to affect games across the spectrum – scoring, playmaking, defending, rebounding – puts him in line for major minutes. Kyle Singler endeared himself to Cheeks from the first day of training camp with his sheer hustle, basketball IQ, size at his position and defensive temperament.
That didn’t leave many minutes – or any, really – for Datome, who came to the Pistons from Italy pigeon-holed as a small forward.
So it was more than a little noteworthy when Cheeks summoned Datome late in the first quarter of Tuesday’s loss to Indiana and sent him back out to start the second along with Singler and Andre Drummond up front. Even though Singler played shooting guard as a rookie until the trade of Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons drafted him viewing him as a small forward who could swing to power forward in the right matchups.
Posted Tuesday, November 5, 2013
The easy answer is Indiana shot it better than the Pistons. Way better. And especially better from the 3-point line. In a game the Pacers – the NBA’s last unbeaten team at 4-0 – would win by eight points, they outscored the Pistons by 12 from the 3-point line. And they took four fewer shots from the arc to do it.
So that’s the easy answer. That and Paul George, who looked every bit worth the maximum contract the Pacers handed him in the off-season. He scored 31 points and he did it effortlessly on a night, pitting two of the league’s brawniest teams, when others required Herculean feats to score.
The tougher answers will be the ones the Pistons spend the season’s remaining 78 games trying to get to. They’ve had fewer games together than the Pacers have had seasons as a core. Brandon Jennings started his first game after preseason was a complete washout for him. Greg Monroe is the only holdover starter from a year ago. For the many ways these teams resemble each other, the familiarity edge goes to Indiana by landslide.
Posted Tuesday, November 5, 2013
And then there was one.
After Monday night losses by Philadelphia, Minnesota and Houston, the NBA’s lone remaining unbeaten team – the Indiana Pacers – puts its record on the line tonight.
At The Palace.
The Pacers, who took Miami to seven games in last spring’s Eastern Conference finals, are led offensively by Paul George, a fourth-year player who received a five-year maximum contract extension over the off-season in keeping with his emerging superstar status. George comes into tonight’s game tied for fifth in the NBA in scoring at 25.7 per game.
Posted Monday, November 4, 2013
There aren’t many NBA statistics after three games that deserve your trust, but you can take this one to the bank: It’s no fluke that the NBA defensive leader in scoring and field-goal percentage in the first week is the one coming to The Palace on Tuesday night, the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana’s first three opponents averaged 83.7 points and shot 37.9 percent. In Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George, the Pacers have one of the NBA’s few frontcourts that won’t come into games against the Pistons this season fretting about being overpowered in the paint.
In fact, Tuesday’s game will be a classic case of irresistible force vs. immovable object. Through three games, the Pistons are No. 2 in the NBA in points in the paint at a whopping 55.3 points a game, just 0.7 behind the surprising Philadelphia 76ers. At the other end of the spectrum, Indiana is No. 1 in fewest points in the paint allowed, 30 per game.
Posted Sunday, November 3, 2013
Maurice Cheeks never came out and said that Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey were ticketed to be his starting backcourt. But if you read between the lines through the first week of training camp, that’s where the Pistons sure appeared to be headed.
Two nights after Stuckey returned from a 23-day absence due to a broken thumb and on the night Jennings came back off of a 25-day break to let his fractured jaw heal, it became all but official.
Neither Jennings nor Stuckey started in the 87-77 win over Boston, but both finished. They finished Boston strong, too, Jennings playing the last 17:33 and Stuckey the final 16:51 straight after entering the game midway through the third quarter. It wasn’t often pretty, except when the Pistons were pounding the ball inside to a frontcourt that again flashed signs of dominance, and they again committed way too many turnovers: 21, leading to 27 Boston points and allowing the Celtics to erase a 15-point third-quarter deficit.
But they also forced nine turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, spearheaded by Jennings and Stuckey’s backcourt pressure. Jennings had three of his four steals in the final quarter, Stuckey one of his three, and they forced three straight Boston turnovers in a critical late stretch after the Celtics – who went ahead by two points after a 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter, then fell behind by eight when the Pistons ripped off 10 straight points – cut their deficit to two points. The Pistons finished the game on an 8-0 run after that.
Posted Saturday, November 2, 2013
You’re tempted to say Brandon Jennings is chomping at the bit to make his Pistons debut, but two days removed from having his jaw unwired he’s not yet chomping on much.
“It’s just a process,” he said following Saturday’s Pistons practice the morning after their overtime loss at Memphis that left them both emotionally gutted and encouraged for their future. “When you have a broken jaw, you can’t just come back and start chewing everything. I’m still eating soft food right now.”
What he’s seen from his teammates over their first two games is something Jennings would love to sink his teeth into. And he hopes to start doing so as soon as Sunday night’s game against Boston, when the Pistons will break out their new Motor City alternate uniforms. Whether he’ll play will be a game-time decision, he said.
Posted Friday, November 1, 2013
If the Pistons put themselves in position to win on the road against NBA title-worthy teams and it comes down to Chauncey Billups at the free-throw line and the 3-point line, well, they’re going to win a lot of games this season.
He missed a free throw that would’ve put the Pistons up five with 52 seconds left and a triple at the buzzer that forced overtime and Memphis won, 111-108 in overtime. It was the kind of loss that stings, but it was also the kind of loss that forged the souls of the Goin’ to Work Pistons in Billups’ first go-around with the Pistons.
“Both,” Billups said when I asked him if the takeaway from the game was letting a big road win wiggle off the hook or a huge measuring stick performance from a young team whose knees would have buckled a year ago when Memphis took the game’s first double-digit lead, 10 points, midway through the third quarter.
Instead, the Pistons led by two before the third quarter was out and by six with 1:09 to play after a Josh Smith triple.
“We definitely let this game get away,” Billups said. “Oh, man. This kind of game just sits on you. You hate to lose like this. You’re in control, but it happens. It’s the NBA. You’ve just got to learn from it. You’ve got to learn – be better, execute down the stretch, take care of the ball. With all of that, you have a shot to win it, a shot we wanted. I didn’t knock it down, but that’s basketball. That’s how it goes.”
Posted Friday, November 1, 2013
MEMPHIS – The Pistons have weathered the bizarre run of preseason injuries to their backcourt about as well as they could have hoped. Without anticipated starters Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings in the opener, they held off Washington to win. Tonight they get Stuckey back. And if all goes well Sunday, Jennings will join him.
Jennings has been fitted with a protective mask, one that extends past his jawline to protect the hairline fracture discovered more than two weeks ago when he was experiencing pain relating to an impacted wisdom tooth. Maurice Cheeks said, “I think we’re going to figure it out tomorrow and see what his status is and see when he’s available. If all goes well, possibly Sunday.”
Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum will remain the starters tonight at Memphis, Cheeks said. But Stuckey will come in first off the bench at guard, a role filled in the season-opening win by rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Posted Friday, November 01, 2013
Memphis, home of the blues, might as well also be home of the blueprint for the Pistons.
Built around their dominant frontcourt tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies won 56 games last season, reached the Western Conference finals and enter the 2013-14 season as among the half-dozen or so most legitimate NBA title contenders.
In considering the possibilities ahead of him for playing alongside Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe spent a chunk of his summer studying Randolph in particular. In plotting his playbook after being hired by the Pistons last June, Maurice Cheeks consulted longtime friend Lionel Hollins and wound up hiring Henry Bibby, an ex-Philadelphia 76ers teammate who was on Hollins’ staff in Memphis before the Grizzlies made a coaching change following their playoff loss to San Antonio.