Downed by Dallas

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Fourteen seasons in, Dirk Nowitzki from 18 feet remains the surest thing in the NBA this side of a LeBron James breakaway dunk. The former MVP isn’t showing any signs of slippage – not, at least, if you polled the Pistons and the fans who watched him drop jump shots like layups in an 18-point, seven-rebound performance. Nowitzki shot 9 of 10 in just 27 minutes, a big reason why the Mavs shot 71 percent in the first quarter, 61 percent for the first half and 55 percent for the game in their 100-86 win over the Pistons. It was Detroit’s fifth straight loss and ends a brutal 10-game stretch to start the season that saw them play nine 2011 playoff teams. Lawrence Frank would surely say that it doesn’t really matter who they play, though, if they don’t tighten up their defense and stop turning the ball over. Nowitzki, though, rises above pretty much any defensive scheme, and even if his night was pedestrian by his standards, it reminded Pistons fans who get to see him in person just once a year why he’s been an elite player for more than a decade.

BLUE COLLAR – It wasn’t the kind of game that advances many candidates for blue collar consideration, but what constituted the bright spot of the game for the Pistons – a stretch late in the first quarter, after Dallas had established a 16-point lead – was fueled by Will Bynum, who only knows one speed: full ahead. Bynum gave the Pistons 10 points and three assists in a first half where they struggled to get out of their own way. After a turnover-plagued start to the game, Bynum came in and settled it down for them, even as he was doing his part to help push the offense at a faster tempo. None of their 10 first-half turnovers were on Bynum. He finished with 20 points in 25 minutes.

RED FLAG – Turnovers have been a nagging problem over the first nine games – the Pistons came into Tuesday night ranked 27th in the league at 16.7 per game – but they became an epidemic in the fourth quarter of Monday’s loss at Chicago and continued into the first quarter of the Dallas game. The Pistons committed seven in their first nine possessions, spotting Dallas a 15-4 lead, five minutes into the game. They trailed by 14 at halftime despite allowing the Mavs to shoot 61 percent partly because they scaled back their turnovers after the early eruption, finishing the half with 10. But then they committed six more early in the third quarter and Dallas jumped all over them, blowing the lead out to 28 points. The Pistons finished with 21 turnovers which Dallas converted into 29 points – 19 more points than the Pistons got off of Dallas turnovers in a 14-point loss.

The Dallas Mavericks visited President Obama on Monday to be saluted for winning the 2011 NBA title. If White House staffers notice some missing silverware, chances are pretty good it was the Mavs who walked out with it. They stole the Pistons blind Tuesday, too.

Turnovers, a persistent problem for the Pistons through 10 games, buried them early against the reigning champions. After committing 10 in the fourth quarter Monday to undermine their shot at a comeback win over Chicago, the Pistons coughed it up seven times in their first nine possessions Tuesday to spot Dallas a quick double-digits lead.

Somehow, despite a series of almost bizarre halftime stats – four rebounds from the starters, and none from anyone other than Greg Monroe, among them – the Pistons still found themselves on the fringe of halftime contention, down 14. But the second half started and the same issue arose: four turnovers in the first three minutes allowed Dallas to push the lead to 20.

At 2-8 through 10 games, the Pistons find themselves groping on offense and leaking on defense, one side of the court’s problems compounding the issues on the other, and that makes it hard for all concerned to keep things in perspective and not allow frustration to drown them.

“That’s our job – we’ve got to see the big picture,” Lawrence Frank said after Dallas’ 100-86 win in a game the Mavs led by 28 in the third quarter. “You look at it, break down every possession from a game level, but from a macro level, where are we going and what do we need to do to get to where we want to go? As I’ve said, this process may be very painful. There are no easy answers here. This is going to take a lot of work. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll get it right, but it’s not going to get right by getting right – it’s going to take a lot of investment.”

Tayshaun Prince, who struggled through a two-point, one-rebound outing in 22 minutes, admitted to some frustration and disappointment at the apparent lack of progress while acknowledging that as a leader, it’s incumbent upon him to not let frustration affect the group.

“At some point, even though you’re in a struggling process of trying to learn,” he said, “you want to see some signs on a consistent basis and you’re not seeing those signs right now. The signs pretty much showed in (Monday’s) Chicago game, in spurts. Then you come back today and you don’t really see it at all. Yeah, there’s frustration.”

Dallas got 13 of its first 15 points off Pistons turnovers and led 15-4 less than five minutes into the game. The Pistons cut a 16-point deficit to six before the first quarter was out, but every step forward was accompanied by two in reverse.

“You’ve got to take care of the ball to win games,” said Jonas Jerebko, whose play was emblematic of where the Pistons are at right now. The harder he tried, the faster his wheels sunk in quicksand. Jerebko got slapped with two quick fouls and never really could settle in to try to put the shackles on Dirk Nowitzki, who sunk 9 of 10 shots. “It got me out of my rhythm; let’s put it that way,” he said. “But there’s nothing I can do about it.

“We’re trying to keep our heads straight,” he said. “It’s early in the season. There are a lot of games left and we know how we can play, so we just have to stay positive. We’re going to get some wins. We’ve just got to stay together.”

The schedule turns slightly to the Pistons’ favor now. Of their first 10 games, nine were against 2011 playoff teams; their next five are all against 2011 lottery teams. But Frank scoffs at the notion that it should matter to the Pistons at this point, when they have to fix what’s wrong with them before they can expect to beat even struggling teams consistently.

“If you disrespect any team in this league, you will get disrespected,” he said. “We’re not losing just because we’re playing quality teams; we’re losing because we don’t deserve to win right now. By no means are we disillusioned.”

Disappointed, yes. Frustrated, trying not to be – or trying not to let it distract them, at least. Disillusioned, nope. The Pistons understand they’re not a very good basketball team right now.

“If we’re not frustrated by losing, whether it’s by one or by 21, you’re not a competitor,” Frank said. “So I would hope everyone’s frustrated, but when you get frustrated, you’ve got two choices. You either fight harder and understand what you have to do. And the other choice isn’t an option.”