Staying Strong

A week after hitting bottom, Pistons hold 3-game winning streak

The Pistons have won their last three games.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
A team that loses five games for every one it wins is bound to wonder about the ability of the guy with his hands on the wheel to keep the rubber on the road. Lawrence Frank fully understands that much. And he can explain it in terms that everyone – from Pistons fans to Pistons owners – can readily grasp.

That’s where the Pistons were at a week ago, winning four and losing 20. Three games later, they’re 7-20. There are many X and O explanations that Frank could delve into to explain the turnaround, but at its root is the fact the Pistons kept the faith through a seven-game losing streak.

“Any time you struggle, it’s the nature of professional athletics – and probably the nature of business,” Frank said, an analogy that Pistons owner Tom Gores, whose Platinum Equity rose to industry giant on its ability to identify underperforming companies and engineer dramatic turnarounds, would surely appreciate. “Let’s say there’s a failing company, borderline bankrupt. Well, the employees are going to start to question what is going on here. Same thing on a basketball team or a football team – but that’s called character, players’ character.

“The easiest thing to do is to point fingers. They point at the coach, then they start pointing at each other and ultimately you have to look in that mirror – all of us – and say, ‘Hmmm, what can I do better?’ That’s the natural metamorphosis all teams go through when you’re struggling. It’s not like we have all our problems fixed – we don’t – but we’re playing better basketball.”

The fine line an NBA coach walks – more than in any other sport, Frank believes – is keeping a team’s confidence up in tough times yet tamping down overconfidence or self-satisfaction after breaking through to success.

“In this league, more so than I think any other, things go from bad to good, good to bad, very quickly,” he said. “The challenge is when things are going bad, can you hold the fort, can you just stay with it, can guys maintain belief even when it sometimes may be hard to believe. Then things can get good. If there’s no belief whatsoever, then you’re going to get what you’re thinking you’re going to get. This is very early in the process, but all of your experiences, as a player and a coach, help you become better.”

The hope, at least, is that by pulling through the depths of a rocky start – on one level, a perfectly understandable start given the confluence of factors at play – that the next decline won’t be a severe or last as long.

“Any time you’re doing it the way you plan on doing it and it works, that always gives some credence to it,” Frank said. “But there’s 29 other good teams and they have philosophies, as well. It’s who can be deeply committed to what they believe in on their worst nights.”

The worst of Wednesday night’s win at New Jersey, at least, showed the sudden resolve the Pistons are exhibiting. New Jersey came from 18 down early in the third quarter to one behind nearing the midway mark of the fourth. The comeback was largely engineered by Deron Williams, safely among the NBA’s elite. The momentum rolling downhill against the Pistons at that moment – opponent on a roll, superstar sizzling, home crowd in full throat – was a considerable force. And a team that a week earlier on the same court lost a close game to fall to 4-20 won anyway.

Frank will acknowledge that it was a fairly impressive step forward … right before he reminds everyone that it won’t much matter if the next step is in reverse.

“The key is that (Williams) gets that four-point play and we’re able to force a turnover,” he said. “That’s why he’s a great player. There’s a reason why guys like Deron Williams are consistent All-Stars, Olympians. Because they’re able to raise their level at the moment of truth higher than probably anyone else on the floor. But with that being said, we’re still going to have to do a much better job against him in order to have a chance to win again tomorrow.”