Rough Road

10-game grind ends for Pistons with games vs. Bulls, Mavs

The Pistons will have to do most of their work on the road in January.
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Only two NBA teams have played teams without a losing record so far this year. The Pistons are one of them. Golden State, the other, shares a 2-6 record with them, beyond coincidence. The Pistons have played the NBA’s toughest schedule so far based on opposition winning percentage. Of the Pistons’ first 10 games, nine of them – all but Cleveland, the opponent for the home opener – was a 2011 playoff team.

Does Lawrence Frank worry that such a daunting early schedule will leave his team, already groping to get up to speed with a new coach who didn’t have the benefit of an off-season or a normal preseason, with a battered psyche?

“No – this is the NBA,” he said Monday with the Pistons about to finish their opening 10-game death march with a flourish, playing at Chicago before returning home for a Tuesday date with reigning NBA champion Dallas, which enjoyed Saturday and Sunday off before a Monday trip to the White House. “I didn’t realize it until someone told me that we’ve played the toughest strength of schedule in the NBA. But I’ve never said it to our group. You’ve got to line up and play.

“We beat two playoff teams (Indiana and Orlando), so we’re capable of doing it. But we have to play that hard to give ourselves the best possible chance to win. We’re not going to be a group that can stroll out three All-Stars and just out-talent ’em. That doesn’t work, big picture, anyway. But we have to do it together – with maximum effort.”

The Pistons will have to do it Monday night shorthanded again. Rodney Stuckey will miss his third straight game with a groin strain and Charlie Villanueva, who has been bothered by a nagging ankle injury incurred before training camp opened, again will sit out. Austin Daye is a game-time decision after twisting his ankle in Friday’s game at Philadelphia and missing Saturday’s home loss to the Knicks.

The Bulls played suffocating defense against the Pistons in their win last week at The Palace. The numbers don’t portend well for the Pistons breaking out of their offensive doldrums against Chicago, either. While the Pistons are last in the league in scoring (84.3), the Bulls are No. 2 (88.7) in points allowed.

“They’re one of the elite teams in the league,” Frank said. “Not only are we looking to win the game, we’re looking to get better and improve. We’ve got to see progress. And that game against New York still very much leaves a bad taste in your mouth. We have to establish standards and principles in terms of how we’re going to play and that’s not the way we want to play.”

The Bulls are likely to be without ex-Piston Rip Hamilton, like Stuckey battling a groin injury. Hamilton missed the two games prior to Chicago’s visit to The Palace last week and his missed both Chicago games since then. C.J. Watson, backup to Derrick Rose, is also unlikely to play.