Nose Broken, Streak Not

Pistons lose Knight, but not fighting spirit as they win 2nd straight

TEAM COLORS

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

– Greg Monroe came into Saturday’s game with New Orleans averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds a game over his last seven, with a double-double in six of those games, missing only by two rebounds when he went for 21 points and eight boards at New Jersey on Wednesday night. Monroe had 20 and 10 by the end of the third quarter against New Orleans and finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds (one off his career best) as the Pistons won their second game in as many nights, beating New Orleans 89-87. Monroe dominated his matchup with New Orleans center Emeka Okafor, a limited player offensively but a solid defender and rebounder. Okafor had eight points and seven rebounds.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons were down to two true guards on the roster, Rodney Stuckey and Walker Russell, after losing Brandon Knight in the first quarter. Russell, signed out of the D-League 16 days and 11 games ago, has endeared himself to Lawrence Frank and his teammates for his fearlessness and competitive spirit. Despite his size (6-foot-0, 183 pounds), he’s also shown he’s a battler defensively. Russell, whose non-guaranteed contract must be picked up next week or the Pistons would have to let him go, was indispensable against the Hornets. He played 33 minutes, and when he came out early in the fourth quarter, the Pistons had a tough time containing Hornets point guard Grevis Vasquez, whose personal 7-0 run cut a 10-point Pistons lead to three. Russell finished with nine points and four assists in 33 minutes.

RED FLAG – Brandon Knight, coming off a career-best 26 points that included seven assists and no turnovers in 39 minutes of Friday night’s win over Milwaukee, only lasted five minutes on Saturday. With the action thick under the New Orleans basket, Knight was in the wrong place as Greg Monroe and ex-Piston DaJuan Summers contested a rebound. Monroe’s left elbow came down and clipped Knight in the face. He suffered a broken nose and missed the rest of the game. The Pistons haven’t had more than one day off between games yet this season, but they don’t play again until Wednesday. The Pistons, who haven’t had more than one day off between games yet this season, get three off before hosting New Jersey on Wednesday. No immediate word on whether Knight will be back by then.

Broken at The Palace: Brandon Knight’s nose, yes; the Pistons’ winning streak, no.

Playing their seventh game in nine nights – all without three key players – the Pistons lost their electric rookie point guard five minutes into the game when he caught an elbow that wobbled him and broke his nose. And it had already started ominously, the Pistons falling behind 6-0 and misfiring on their first four possessions.

“That’s what we talked about in the locker room – the spirit and the fight,” Lawrence Frank said following the Pistons’ 89-87 win over New Orleans, completing a weekend sweep at The Palace after knocking off Milwaukee the night before. “Seventh game in nine nights, go down shorthanded again without your starting point guard and instead of, ‘Oh, man, here we go again,’ there was fight.”

Knight, who a night earlier dropped a career-best 26 points to lead the Pistons in snapping their seven-game losing streak, went down in a heap under the New Orleans basket when Greg Monroe and his ex-Georgetown and Pistons teammate DaJuan Summers went after a rebound and somebody’s elbow – Monroe says it was Summers’ – caught Knight in the face.

Knight stayed down for a few minutes, then was led to the locker room by strength coach Arnie Kander. When they told him he’d miss the game, Knight rebelled.

“They’ll have to reset it, get him fit for a mask,” Frank said. “Hopefully by Tuesday we’ll have him back at practice. To give him unbelievable credit, he has a broken nose and he’s begging those guys to get back in the game. Couldn’t do it.”

Without Knight, a shortened guard rotation got that much shorter. Will Bynum has been out for three weeks with a foot injury and Ben Gordon two weeks with a sore shoulder, leaving only Rodney Stuckey and D-League call-up Walker Russell. Frank had to buy some backcourt minutes with Austin Daye and Damien Wilkins, but he rode Stuckey for 38 minutes and Russell for 33. Stuckey scored 17 points, getting to the line eight times, and Russell chipped in with nine points and four assists. But Russell’s most important contribution came on the defensive end, where his scrappiness helps set a tone.

“When you can have a guy step in and give us 33 minutes of play – to play with that fight and spirit and heart,” Frank said, “I thought Walker did very, very well.”

The game had gone back and forth for most of the night when the Pistons, who trailed by three at halftime, took the first double-digit lead either way by going on an 8-0 run early in the fourth. New Orleans point guard Grevis Vasquez answered a 7-0 run of his own. Frank called timeout and rushed Greg Monroe – brilliant again with 24 points and 16 boards against his hometown team – and Russell back into the game. Monroe played all but 2:30 of the second half; the Hornets outscored the Pistons 7-3. But it was Russell who limited Vasquez to two points in the final six minutes.

“One man goes down, the other man’s got to step up,” he said. “I never played against Vasquez, but I did a pretty good job, I think. I’m just out here trying to play good defense and make my team better.”

The schedule has softened some on the Pistons over the past week, but they’re 2-1 with a narrow loss over their last three games since Frank turned to Jason Maxiell at power forward, the third to man that spot this season following Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace. Maxiell, coming off an eight-point, 12-rebound night when he logged 37 minutes against Milwaukee, made big contributions again with 10 points, five boards and a block in 33 minutes. He had two big dunks in the last 2:31, the first in traffic off a feed from Tayshaun Prince, the second when he rounded up a Monroe miss.

“Jason Maxiell embodied what the effort was all about,” Frank said. “His tenacity, his effort, his toughness – I don’t know what (Monroe) finished with (in) offensive rebounds. I guess he had six. I would bet that three of them were the result of Max keeping balls alive and then to get that big dunk – momentum play. Max brings a toughness, an intensity, a tenacity about him. He played with an edge.”

The Pistons came home a few days ago off a demoralizing four-game road trip that dropped their record to 4-20. Now they’ve got a two-game winning streak and a stretch of three days off before their next game after going their first 26 games without more than a day between games.

“It definitely feels good,” Monroe said, “especially to come back home and get it in front of the home crowd. We needed them. It was a maximum team effort. We played a whole game, played 48 minutes both games. We just have to continue to do that night in, night out.”