See Ya Later Sunday

Pistons hit the road for what will feel like 3-week trip
SALT LAKE CITY – To the rest of America, it’s Selection Sunday. To the Pistons, it’s See Ya Later Sunday. Just when they get the hang of winning at The Palace – four in a row and nine of the last 12 to push a game over .500 for the season at home at 12-11 – they say goodbye to their home court for a good long while.

The Pistons open their longest road trip – 11 days’ worth – since the 2004-05 season at Utah on Monday, then follow up with stops in Sacramento, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Denver. They’ll get back home not long before dawn on March 22, then leave the following night after hosting the Miami Heat for another weeklong trip and four more road games.

That’s nine of 10 on the road and 17 of the next 19 nights in strange beds. Consider the axiom that the first home game after an extended road trip is really another road game and the Pistons, in effect, will be on a three-week road trip with 10 games in 10 different arenas.

When they trudge home from Chicago on March 30, they shouldn’t get too comfortable. They’ll play three home games in seven nights at The Palace, then hit the road for another week for four more games. That means the three longest road trips of the season come consecutively, taking the Pistons away from home for 25 days between March 11 and April 12.

No big deal, Lawrence Frank says.

“The trip is the trip – that’s the NBA. It’s not like all of a sudden we’re going to Bermuda. We’re playing basketball. We’re going to different cities to play the same game. Every day, we just focus on today and get better today.”

Players become accustomed to travel and, in general, young players look forward to road trips that take them to cities they’ve only rarely visited or to sunshine in the depths of Michigan’s winter. Veteran teams – the Goin’ to Work Pistons that went to six straight conference finals among them – relish hearing road boos and walking out with wins to silence home crowds.

“I definitely love going on the road,” Greg Monroe said. “You just get a chance to get out to difference cities, enjoy yourself, get a little warmer weather on the West Coast. You just have to be prepared to win.”

“It’s my first (long road trip),” Brandon Knight said. “So it’ll be a learning experience like everything else has been this season. I look forward to going out and winning and just competing and continuing to get better as a team.”

The Pistons at least feel the last month-plus has prepared them for the challenge of winning on the road, where Frank says three things are paramount: defend, rebound, keep turnovers to a minimum.

“We’ve been playing really good basketball,” Rodney Stuckey said. “We’ve got to continue to keep playing like that. We’ve been playing pretty good on the road – we’ve just got to finish. It’ll be a test, but I think we’re up for the challenge. I think we’re ready.”

“It’s always been about habits,” Frank said. “We’re winning, but we’re also playing the way we need to play to win. We understand what the challenges are, regardless of whether it’s home or road. We’re going to have to play very well on both ends to have a chance to win. I think our guys have continued to make strides to get better. We know the road ahead of us and our approach doesn’t change. Right now, our focus is on a very good Utah team and that’s it.”

The Jazz, who lost Saturday night at Chicago to fall to 19-21 as they rebuild after last season’s blockbuster trade that sent Deron Williams to New Jersey, have been the Pistons’ greatest nemesis in recent years. The Pistons snapped an overall 11-game losing streak by beating Utah at The Palace last season, but they haven’t won in the Beehive State since Nov. 6, 2002, a string of eight straight losses.

But this Utah team doesn’t have John Stockton and Karl Malone, or Williams and Carlos Boozer, for that matter. It also doesn’t have Jerry Sloan as coach. Perhaps the most unusual element of the trip ahead is that it contains no back-to-back sets. The Pistons have one day off after each of the first three games and two days off between their games against the Clippers and the finale at Denver.

“I think we have five games in 11 days – it is what it is,” Stuckey said. “We’re not really complaining. We get to be in LA for four days. We get to be in sun – we haven’t seen that in a while, so I’m not complaining about that.”

For the younger players, especially, it will feel almost like March Madness, hitting the road on Selection Sunday and playing games while the NCAA tournament launches.

“We are playing every other day, so it kind of does feel like that,” Monroe said. “It’s fun. Just playing games every other day is fun. Guys get tired of practicing sometimes in this league, so just knowing you have a game the next day is fun.”