Pistons Fall to Knicks

As games pile up, lack of practice time compounds Pistons troubles

TEAM COLORS

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

– Carmelo Anthony has been bothered by assorted minor injuries – ankle, wrist, thumb – that kept him out of the previous two games and limited his effectiveness in several others. But he came back looking in fine fettle against the Pistons, going for 16 points and six assists on 7 of 10 shooting in the first half alone and finishing with 25 points in 33 minutes as the Knicks posted a 113-86 win and handed the 4-19 Pistons their sixth straight loss. Greg Monroe kept the Pistons in it early after they again fell quickly behind by double digits at 17-7. But they scored on six of seven possessions to get within a point and Monroe led the charge, scoring on a nice post move, off an offensive rebound and off a backcourt steal he converted into a layup. Monroe gave the Pistons 11 points and five rebounds in the first quarter alone but finished with 13 points and 12 steals. Six turnovers marred his stat line, including two outlet passes picked off in the backcourt, but he did pitch in with four steals.

BLUE COLLAR – Walker D Russell Jr., son of the former Piston and nephew of Campy Russell, grew up in Oakland County and makes his off-season home in New York, so Tuesday’s game between the Pistons and Knicks had special meaning for him. Signed out of the D-League by the Pistons in January, Russell, 29, was playing in his eighth NBA game and maybe his best moments yet came in his six minutes of the second quarter when he scored six points to go with two assists and could have had two other buckets – a jump shot was wiped out by a whistle and a pretty layup attempt in traffic teased the rim before rolling off. He finished with eight points and three assists And one more: Jonas Jerebko gave the Pistons 15 points and four rebounds in a scrappy 16 minutes off the bench.

RED FLAG – The Pistons would have been boasting about one of their best offensive first halves of the season if not for the turnovers that undermined their good work. They shot 51.4 percent in the first half, yet committed 13 turnovers which again led to too many easy points for the Knicks. The NBA average is 15 turnovers a game and the Pistons rank 27th at 16.4 per game. They went past that with seven minutes left in the third quarter and finished with 22 turnovers which led to 21 Knicks points.

NEW YORK – The Pistons are four games into a stretch of seven in nine days, but the frequency of the games might be the least of their schedule concerns. The bigger one is how the games themselves preclude any chance to practice for, you know … the games. The Pistons played perhaps their two best games of the season last week, both three-point losses to East front-runners Miami and Atlanta, and Lawrence Frank surely doesn’t think it a coincidence that both performances came a day after two of the three practices the schedule has allowed the Pistons to hold over the last 3½ weeks.

Since losing to Atlanta in an overtime heartbreaker last Friday, the Pistons have lost one-sided road games to Philadelphia, Milwaukee and New York, the latest a 113-86 setback at basketball’s mecca, Madison Square Garden, to a Knicks team coming off a stretch of nine losses in 10 games but welcoming Carmelo Anthony back to the lineup.

It was a game that continued a losing formula: turnovers leading to easy early points for the opposition, putting them in a comfort zone and forcing the Pistons – a team without much margin for error to start with – to climb uphill for three-plus quarters.

“We’re not playing well,” Tayshaun Prince admitted. “We just didn’t give ourselves a chance. Offensively, the ball’s not moving. When one guy gets the ball, we’re looking for that guy to make a play. Instead of all five guys moving and trying to set some screens, we’re looking around and saying, ‘Hey, Stuckey, why don’t you save us? Tayshaun, why don’t you save us?’ We all know how tough in this league it is to score when the ball’s not moving.”

The Pistons actually played pretty well offensively in the first half except for one glaring problem area: turnovers. Rated 27th in the league coming into the game, averaging 16.4 a game, the Pistons coughed it up 13 times in the first half alone, overshadowing 51 percent shooting. They trailed 57-45 at halftime as the Knicks shot 66 percent (23 of 35) and hit 6 of 8 from the 3-point line.

“We don’t even give ourselves a chance that way,” Frank said, echoing Prince. “Between turnovers, the defensive miscues, not moving the ball – it’s just a cumulative effect. When it’s a six-, eight-point game and the floodgates open, we don’t get it back. It’s embarrassing for all us where teams can shoot the ball what they’ve been shooting over the last five games. We have little chance to win when teams are shooting 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.”

The Pistons, as they did in Milwaukee a night earlier and too many other times this season, started the game by spotting the Knicks a double-digit lead. It was 17-7 before they found a comfort zone offensively, scoring on six of seven possessions to get back within a point. Within hailing distance at halftime despite their sins, the Pistons saw New York open on a 10-4 run to stretch its lead to 17.

Ben Wallace, like Prince, senses that the offensive woes have everybody trying to ride to the rescue, hurting the team despite their best intentions.

“In this league, when you’re struggling, you get guys that want to take the load on their shoulders, which might not be the best thing for the team,” Wallace said. “But you can’t not allow those guys to go out and play their game. There’s no one spot I can point at and say we need to get better at this or that. As a team, we need to get better. Everybody’s got to look in the mirror and say, ‘If I’m not a part of the solution, I’m a part of the problem.’ And right now, it’s a problem. So we’re all part of the problem.”

The Pistons, now 4-19 and dragging a sixth straight loss with them across the Hudson River for Wednesday’s game with New Jersey, have now played 23 games in 37 days since the season opener on Dec. 26. The Nets game will be their fifth game in six nights and the third in three. And they’ve been without Ben Gordon, Will Bynum and Charlie Villanueva for all of that stretch and Tayshaun Prince for the Miami and Atlanta games.

“It is what it is,” Frank said. “We knew this going on. It is no excuse. We’re not even putting ourselves in position where these games are in doubt. We’re all embarrassed that we’re not doing better and we’re all involved in it. We all have to raise our hand and figure out areas we can improve.”