Max Impact

Maxiell’s progress gives Frank hope Pistons have found right mix

Jason Maxiell has made his mark on the Pistons since moving to the starting lineup.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
NEW YORK – Jason Maxiell moved into the starting lineup one week and three games ago. In his second start, Friday’s win over Milwaukee at The Palace, he logged a season-high 37 minutes, giving the Pistons eight points, 12 boards and two blocked shots. He came back the next night to log 33 more, his second longest run. It was the Pistons’ fifth game in six nights, their seventh in nine.

“It was Sunday that got me,” Maxiell grinned. “Just waking up in that bed – did not want to move. It’s tough, but it’s a shortened season. You’ve got to be prepared for it.”

Lawrence Frank didn’t make Maxiell the starter next to Greg Monroe out of dissatisfaction with Ben Wallace, just as his decision to make Wallace the starter after 13 games wasn’t a reflection on Jonas Jerebko. With a one-week training camp and a two-game preseason necessitated by the lockout, Frank’s hand is forced by the schedule to do his tinkering during the course of the regular season.

He’s looking for the best frontcourt mix, not only among the starting five but among the second unit, as well. For now, Maxiell’s impact on the starting lineup has given the Pistons a boost. After three straight lopsided losses, the Pistons are 2-1 with a narrow road loss at New Jersey in Maxiell’s first start.

Now a seven-year veteran, Maxiell’s role has fluctuated as much as anyone’s during his time as a Piston. He cracked the rotation as a young player under Flip Saunders behind Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, but has since bounced from starter to frontcourt reserve to out of the rotation.

Frank was hoping for the Maxiell who makes those momentum-turning plays – the big blocked shots or put-back dunks – but didn’t see much evidence of it early.

“It talks about his commitment,” Frank said of Maxiell’s development. “Max has made as much progress as any player from the start of training camp until now. When you go back and watch practices the first six days and when you’re watching today and how he’s playing, there’s a noticeable difference. To me, it’s the work he’s put in, not just the off-season but from the time training camp started Dec. 9. I watch him every day. The work he puts in with (assistant coaches) Roy (Rogers) and Brian (Hill) and Greg Monroe and (Ben Wallace) and Vernon (Macklin). Those guys are getting after it. Credit to his work ethic.”

Maxiell has come to training camp in recent seasons slimmed down, then gradually added weight as the season has progressed, especially when his playing time plunges. This year, with the grinding schedule, he’s managed to maintain his weight. He says he came to camp 20 pounds lighter than last season.

“It’s all about watching what you eat,” he said. “At times, when you want to splurge a little bit on yourself with a nice little meal, you’ve got to watch your intake.”

The Pistons play at New Jersey tonight – one week to the day and the same spot where Maxiell broke into the starting lineup.

This time, though, they’ll come in well rested. Last week, it was their third game in three nights. This week, it comes after their first stretch of more than one day off between games since the regular season began on Dec. 26. After sweeping Milwaukee and New Orleans at The Palace over the weekend, the Pistons took Sunday off and then had two intense practices Monday and Tuesday.

“It’s something we all needed – get our heads back to understand we won two games in a row and try to make it three,” Maxiell said of the break. “The practice (Monday) felt more like a training camp practice – what we need.”