Hitting the Wall

Playing 6th game in 8 days, Pistons sputter in loss to T-wolves

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Minnesota came into Thursday’s game at The Palace 26th in the NBA in points allowed, giving up 100.1 per game. The Pistons didn’t even get halfway there through three quarters, trailing 68-48 and shooting 29 percent to a team that had lost 11 straight. Behind Will Bynum’s 17 fourth-quarter points, the Pistons rallied to come within five points with 37 seconds left before losing 91-80. They had trouble containing burly Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic early, his quick nine points helping Minnesota, playing without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, score 16 points in the game’s first five minutes. Pekovic finished with 23 points and point guard J.J. Barea added 13 points and 12 assists.

BLUE COLLAR – Tayshaun Prince was given the night off on Wednesday – the middle of a back-to-back-to-back set – and seemed rejuvenated by the respite. His step was lively as he scored 15 first-half points – more than half the team’s 31 total – while the Pistons were shooting a dreary 28 percent. Prince finished with 18 points, five rebounds and three assists, playing only three minutes in the fourth quarter when the game got out of hand.

RED FLAG – Since destroying Cleveland on Tuesday night, the Pistons haven’t come close to being able to muster the same level of defensive intensity or offensive efficiency. One night after giving up 72 first-half points to Atlanta, the Pistons’ offense went into a serious tailspin against Minnesota. At one point in the first half, the Pistons missed 19 of 20 shots. It was their sixth game in eight nights and, by all appearances, they lost their legs in the process of their romp over Cleveland.

Want to know what a team playing its sixth game in eight days looks like? No, you probably don’t.

Three games, three nights, three different teams. The Pistons were great in beating Cleveland on Tuesday and not so much in consecutive losses to Atlanta and Minnesota for different reasons. A night after allowing Atlanta to shoot better than 60 percent in running up 72 first-half points, the Pistons’ offense betrayed them in falling 23 behind a gasping Timberwolves team Thursday at The Palace before rallying late behind Will Bynum in a 91-80 loss.

They looked very much like a runner cramping up in the late stages of a marathon, which isn’t hard to imagine – their last back-to-back-to-back set of the lockout-altered schedule, punctuating the 6-in-8 stretch, sapped the Pistons physically and emotionally. But they’re as tired of being asked about the schedule as they are … well, tired.

“We haven’t had legs all season,” said Bynum, whose 17 fourth-quarter points equaled or bettered what the Pistons as a team scored in each of the first three quarters. “Can’t complain about that now.”

The Pistons trailed 49-31 at halftime and 68-48 after three quarters and shot under 30 percent throughout that stretch.

“We looked, at times, punch drunk out there,” Lawrence Frank said. “Running into each other, not great rhythm. We had two four-minute stretches where we didn’t score. We got stops and didn’t score a point. At times we had some good shots, other times we took some quick shots, other times we didn’t move the ball or move bodies as well as we needed to.”

Was it merely coincidence that the one starter Frank allowed to sit Wednesday in the sandwich game, Tayshaun Prince, was the only one who really got it going at any point of the first half? Prince scored 15 points and the rest of the starters managed 10 and shot a combined 5 of 21 before halftime.

“There are no excuses,” Frank said. “The schedule is what it is. The last time we had three in three, our best game was the third game on the road. This is when you have to fight even harder through things. It’s not going to be easy, nor should it be easy.”

“There was a lid on the basket,” said Jason Maxiell, who in 17 minutes managed just two points and two boards, the explosive Maxiell who made such a difference upon moving into the starting lineup on Feb. 1 not much in evidence on a night lethargy seemed to overwhelm the Pistons. “There was some movement, but not as much as we wanted. Shots weren’t going down.”

The Pistons’ offensive struggles came against a Minnesota team, losers of 11 straight and playing without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, that gives up 100 a game.

“People have been putting up pretty big numbers against them,” Frank said. “They’ve been very effective offensively, but they’ve given up numbers. For a bunch of different factors, we weren’t able to take advantage of it.”

The starting backcourt of Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight, whose solidification was one of the critical factors in the Pistons’ turnaround from their 4-20 start, experienced an especially frustrating night. They combined to make 4 of 20 shots, score nine points and hand out only four assists.

Defensively, the Pistons were carved up early, giving up 16 points in the game’s first five minutes. Physical second-year center Nikola Pekovic bulled his way for 23 points, Anthony Randolph had 15 points and 10 rebounds and J.J. Barea 13 points and 12 assists. All three players are starting for injured players – Pekovic for Darko Milicic, Randolph for Love and Barea for both Rubio and Luke Ridnour.

“We got them, obviously, the third night in a row so we took advantage of it,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “Give them credit. Bynum was terrific and they didn’t stop playing. It was their third night in a row and they kept playing.”