Team Turnaround

Scoring up, defense stingier as Pistons win 6 of 8

The Pistons have put together solid stretches of defense that has led to more offense.
Dan Lippitt/NBAE/Getty Images
Lawrence Frank closes his eyes and sees a Pistons team that plays fast but takes care of the basketball, shares it and always takes good shots, one that makes its paint impenetrable, smothers every pick and roll the opponent attempts to execute and contests all jump shots.

Every coach understands that day never comes, but no coach worth employing ever stops pursuing it.

The Pistons host Boston on Sunday, and when fans file out of The Palace after that ends the 2011-12 season will be officially half over, 33 of the lockout-abbreviated season’s 66 games in the books. It was just a few weeks ago the season crossed the one-third milepost.

My, how far the Pistons have come in that time. Their scoring is up about three points per game, the opposition scoring down a point over that span.

“We didn’t want to start the way we started,” Rodney Stuckey said after Saturday’s practice on the heels of his 36-point Friday that led the Pistons to a win over Sacramento. “At this point, we’re really happy with the progress we’re making. We’ve just got to continue to keep getting better.”

After starting the season 4-20, they’ve gone 6-2 over the last eight outings. The turnaround came on the heels of a three-game stretch that saw the Pistons blown out at Philadelphia, Milwaukee and New York on nights they struggled to find anything resembling an offensive rhythm and paid the price for it on the defensive end.

The turnaround might actually have launched in the loss at New Jersey on Feb. 1 that dropped their record to its nadir. The Pistons shot 49 percent that night in a 99-96 loss. In their first 23 games, they’d shot 45 percent or better only five times and were 3-2 in those games, losing only to Miami 101-98 and to New York, when they were down big and scored some easy points late to make their offensive showing that night look better.

But in the nine games since, they’ve shot 45 percent or better seven times and only once – last Sunday’s loss to Washington, when they came out of the gate sluggishly and never got untethered in plummeting to 32 percent – were way off the mark. Even with that game lumped into the mix, the Pistons have shot 46 percent over those nine games; they were at 42 percent through the first 22 games.

“Your offense is part of your defense,” Frank said. “If you’re taking good shots – rhythm, expected shots – that impacts your defense. If you’re taking unexpected, ill-timed shots, that impacts your defense in a negative way and you see that in the amount of points you give up in transition.”

Ultimately, Frank, whose daily mantra starts with defense, points to that end as the most critical component of the turnaround.

“Our defense has created easy offensive opportunities,” he said. “If you look at the field-goal percentage (defense) of six of those eight games, it’s around 42, 43 percent. Defense leads to easy transition offense, or at least numbers on the break where you can play out of flow. There’s a direct correlation.”

When the Pistons get defensive stops, Frank doesn’t call a play but lets them free-lance within the parameters of a set of basketball principles – floor balance, pick-and-roll basics and attacking mismatches.

“We get stops, we do whatever we want,” Stuckey said. “That’s pretty much how it is. It’s fun playing like this.”