Pushing Forward

Sustaining progress made in Heat loss next step for Pistons

The Pistons showed marked progress in their performance against the Miami Heat.
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Pistons fans accustomed to deep playoff runs and the occasional June championship celebration don’t leave The Palace happy after losses. But Wednesday’s 101-98 loss to Miami sent them home encouraged, at least, after an exhilarating night that filled the building with an electricity reminiscent of better days past – and promising better days ahead.

Afterward, Lawrence Frank lauded his team’s spirit. He’s spoken of the difference between losing but playing the right way and just plain losing. The Miami game he filed definitively into the former category – with conditions.

He’d probably be happy to know that his players weren’t necessarily buying in to the “losing the right way” thing, by the way.

“We play this game to win, so it was still a loss – that’s what we’re focusing on,” Greg Monroe said when somebody asked if it was a confidence-building game. “We’re not trying to gauge confidence or anything like that. We’re trying to win games when we step on the court. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Toward that end, there was still plenty of fodder for the day-after cleanup session, a rare day off between games allowing the Pistons their second practice in three days but also just their third in three weeks. Miami became the eighth Pistons opponent of the season to shoot better than 50 percent at 52.1. Ranked 27th in turnovers coming into the game, the Pistons exceeded their average of 16.7, turning it over 22 times.

Was it as simple as Austin Daye scoring 28 points off the bench to cover their defensive lapses and inability to protect the basketball?

“It could be,” Frank allowed after Thursday’s practice, “but the question is, ‘How many of Austin’s shots were uncontested?’ And that’s the answer. It wasn’t like Austin was hitting fadeaway, step-back jump shots. He was hitting spot-up, ball-reversal, rhythm, expected Js. We like our chances. Now, is he going to score 18 in the second quarter (again)? No. But guys have nights. So if Austin isn’t playing, what would the game be? I don’t know. But if LeBron James wasn’t playing, what would it be? If Chris Bosh doesn’t go 12 for 15? I’d love to erase one of those two guys’ numbers, too.”

Daye might not score 28 points many more nights, but when Frank was imagining the possibilities for the season he had to be envisioning something more than what Daye had provided through his first 18 games, when he shot 26 percent overall and made only one 3-point shot. For a team that has yet to break 100 points this season and often struggles to score, the scoring in bunches Daye at his best can provide is critical.

“Shooting, especially for a team that struggles to score, is important,” Frank said. “Yet the contribution on the other end has to be balanced into the equation. If you’re not making shots on the other end and you’re struggling to defend, then what? If you’re making shots and you’re giving your best defensive effort, that’s very much part of the equation. So hopefully, with the work that Austin has put in, he can build on it.”

It was telling that Frank let Daye guard James down the stretch. Even after Rodney Stuckey fouled out with three minutes to go and Frank replaced him with Damien Wilkins, who had guarded James the majority of the night and made him work for whatever he got, Frank stuck with Daye on James.

“Austin had a pretty good rhythm,” he said. “With LeBron, the key is you’ve just got to make him earn everything. I thought he gave a very good effort.”

Carrying that effort over to the next game – Friday, when another Eastern Conference playoff team, Atlanta, comes to The Palace – is the hallmark of the level of consistency Frank hopes becomes a Pistons staple again. And if it does, then it will reinforce his positive feelings about the Miami game, the loss aside.

“There’s such a thing as a good loss and a bad loss,” he said. “It’s only a good loss if you’re able to build on the spirit and the fight. Getting stops during different key stretches, fighting back from a 10-point deficit and sharing the ball – if that carries over. If it doesn’t carry over, then it’s a loss and a bad loss.”

  • Frank said the family issue that caused Tayshaun Prince to miss Wednesday’s game might still cause him to miss Friday’s game. He was absent from Thursday’s practice. Will Bynum (foot) inched closer to a return by participating in a portion of practice. No change in status on Ben Gordon (shoulder) or Charlie Villanueva (ankle).