The Pistons landed on their return flight from Denver at nearly 4 a.m. Thursday after 11 days on the road. They’ll be back at The Palace on Friday night to host Miami and head right back to the airport after the game for another weeklong road trip.
“This is crazy,” Bynum said from Denver, looking forward to getting home – however briefly – to check in on Aliya, big sister and mom. Born Feb. 23, she’ll be 36 days old when the Pistons return from his native Chicago to conclude their next extended trip, and dad will have been gone for exactly half of them. “I’m missing my daughters right now. It’s a crucial time. She’s changing, but it’s part of the business. I just miss her.”
With the Miami game wedged between five- and four-game road trips, in essence it will feel like a 10-game trip. The Pistons will spend less time at home than they did in Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Los Angeles or will in New York, Washington and Chicago in the week ahead.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re going home at all,” said Ben Gordon, who erupted for 45 points in Wednesday’s gut-wrenching loss at Denver. “We’re going to go there for one day and leave right after the game and head back out on the road for another week or so. It’s definitely going to feel like we’ve been on the road for like the last two months or so.”
Complicating matters for the Pistons is the maddening difficulty they’ve had winning road games, despite their greatly improved play over the past 20-plus games. They’re coming off a 1-4 trip in which each of the losses was tied with five minutes or less remaining and the last two, an overtime loss to the Clippers and a one-point setback at Denver, were games in which they held last-minute leads.
“Right now, it’s painful,” Lawrence Frank said when the Nuggets scored four points on one possession in the final 10 seconds to win 116-115 on Wednesday. “Losing is misery. When you take some time to reflect back, what you look at is the good and the bad and figure out how we’re going to close. We all have to do a little bit better. It’s easy to be a front-runner when things are going well. Times are tough now. This is where you grind your teeth a little bit.”
As unlikely as a playoff run seemed when the Pistons started the season 4-20, they were in position to at least make it interesting in the season’s final month with a winning road trip. But instead of going 4-1, they went 1-4 and now face arguably the NBA’s best team, Miami, before heading out to face one of its hottest, New York, in a trying back-to-back weekend set.
Frank knows he can’t allow the narrow misses to become demoralizing, reminding the team that they’re in a much better place now than during their first 24 games when many of the games were non-competitive.
“The analogy is the stone-cutter hammering away at a rock,” he said. “It’s one, two, three, four – you’re up to 100 blows and there’s not even a crack in the rock. And on the 101st, the rock splits. It wasn’t because of the 101st blow, it was the 100 before it. That’s the stage we’re in.
“When you look at our first 24 games, we were in so few of those games we never really experienced the moment of truth. Now we’re getting it a lot, so we’re a competitive basketball team. Winning on the road is hard. Winning close games, on the road or at home, is tough, whether you’re a veteran team or a newer team. These are just the trials and tribulations we have to go through. And yet when we do start winning, it’s not like we have it solved. It’s an everyday journey.”
And at this point in their schedule, it’s a journey that takes them to a different city for virtually every game – a streak of 10 games in 10 different cities.
“There’s a definite lesson to be learned for everybody – for all of us,” Ben Wallace said. “We’ve just got to stick with it, keep grinding, keep pulling for your teammates, just try to find a way to get through tough times. But we’re in position to win games. Eventually, we’ll have to figure out ways to win those games before we consider ourselves to be a contender.”