Back to Work

Back from All-Star break, Pistons embrace less hectic pace

The Pistons look forward to a less frantic second half of the season.
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The first half of the Pistons’ season was played at a sprinter’s pace. For the second half, they’ll be more like middle distance runners.

The Pistons crammed 35 games into 59 days leading to the All-Star break, a schedule that allowed them a mere five practices in all of January and six more in February before they reconvened from the break Monday night at the team’s practice facility.

And now Lawrence Frank gets six practices in the next 11 days if he chooses to use days off that way. For a Bobby Knight disciple who believes the practice court is where teams are built, this period represents a gaping opportunity to gain traction toward the “process” he’s talked about for grooming the Pistons into the team he envisions.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “You can correct and do it on the floor and it’s not so much a mental exercise as there is physical repetition. The balancing act is there’s always a cumulative effect on the body. We’re going to work hard, and this time of year you keep working hard, but instead of going 2½ hours (in practice) you’re now going an hour and a half and getting very focused, concerted work.”

The Pistons had 26 games played before the schedule granted them two or more consecutive days off between games. They’ll have three such schedule breaks over the next 11 days. They’ll come out of the All-Star break the way they went into it – a back-to-back set, this one at home against Philadelphia on Tuesday and league-worst Charlotte on Wednesday – but then play only one game in the next five days, two in the next eight.

The Philly-Charlotte back to back will be the 12th the Pistons have played already. But there are only three scheduled for March, which opens up the practice schedule for Frank considerably. If Frank utilizes every available practice day in March – days without scheduled games, excluding the day after back-to-back sets – he could hold 13 practices in March. That’s only one less than the Pistons would have had from the Dec. 26 opener through the end of February.

He probably won’t schedule practices for all of them, though, as he is mindful of not grinding players down. His general rule of thumb, he said, is to not go more than five days in a row with practices and games. That means when the Pistons head to Utah on March 11 for a five-game road trip that stretches out over 11 days and includes no back-to-back sets, he’ll likely build in a day with no practice, perhaps either before or after the March 18 game against the Clippers, which will be followed by two off days before wrapping up the trip at Denver on March 21.

The real schedule challenge for the Pistons in the month ahead will be the road-heavy slate that sees them spend all of about 36 hours at home, arriving in the early morning of March 22 from Denver, hosting Miami on March 23 and then immediately heading to New York to begin another four-game trek that stretches out over a week.

“This stretch will be to our advantage to have a little more practice between games,” Ben Gordon said. “Maybe we can sharpen up or get a couple of extra days of rest. That’s definitely an advantage for us. We’ve just got to use it wisely.”

The practice time will allow several players looking for a broader role the chance to press for playing time that games rarely allow.

One who could be ready soon? Charlie Villanueva. After feeling just a few weeks ago that he would need surgery on his right ankle that has kept him out since Jan. 6 at Philadelphia, Villanueva took part on a limited basis in Monday’s practice.

“Feels pretty good,” he said. “I’m excited. Today’s progress was pretty good and hopefully tomorrow I’ll do a little more.”