And so far this preseason, they haven’t been. Wednesday’s loss at Winnipeg made them 0-4 and the last three losses, especially, have included some worrisome stretches. The Pistons gave up 40 points to Milwaukee in the third quarter to fall out of contention. Their last two games – at Miami last week and against Minnesota in Winnipeg on Wednesday – were all but over by the end of the first quarter, trailing the Heat by 16 and the Timberwolves by 17.
They fell behind the Bucks by 28, the Heat by 35 and the Timberwolves by 29 at one point in those games.
After the Minnesota loss, Frank said, “We’re seeing some recurring things, especially on the road, that once things don’t go our way, we kind of fall apart a little bit. We’re going to have to be a whole lot more disciplined on both ends of the floor and tighter with what we do. We’ve got a whole lot of work to do.”
It’s not unusual for young teams, especially, to struggle to win games on the road. Talented, confident, veteran teams often relish the challenges of the road – walking into a hostile arena and quieting a home crowd by rising above the moment. Teams still figuring out the recipe for winning become engulfed by those moments.
“Typically, what wins on the road – unless you have unbelievable shooting on the floor – is defending, rebounding and low turnovers,” Frank said after a day to absorb the Winnipeg experience. “When teams don’t do those – barring four 40 percent 3-point shooters – it’s tough.”
If you start with the premise that a .500 record will be the minimum necessary to have a shot at a playoff berth, then if the Pistons win two-thirds of their home games they’d have to win one-third of their road games to put themselves in position to challenge for the postseason. Last year, when they began the season 4-20 including a 1-12 road record, they won just a shade more than one-fifth of games away from The Palace, 7-26.
“You have to manage the game and limit their runs with the use of timeouts,” Frank said of trying to stay close enough in road games to have a chance to win. “It’s also having poise on the floor when things are getting bad. It’s the ability to use the free-throw line when you’re missing shots. It’s the ability, really, to stick with what you do when it’s going crazy. Typically what happens is things start going crazy and you start doing things that aren’t rehearsed. Then you kind of go off the reservation and it’s hard to get back on.”
“We’ve just got to play a full game on the road,” Jonas Jerebko said. “We’re playing one or two quarters and then we fall off. We’ve got to play not 40 minutes, 48. (Wednesday) was a bad first half, but once the season gets going we’ve got to keep practicing and keep building good habits and we’ll be all right.”
It won’t take long for the Pistons to put themselves to the test. After they host Houston on Wednesday to open the NBA regular season, they’ll head out for the season’s longest road trip – six games in nine nights. The trip includes games against two of the handful of teams with legitimate title aspirations, the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City, and finishes with four games in five nights.
“You address it. I don’t think you run away from it,” Frank said. “As a team, whether you’re home or on the road, if we’re not coming as a high-effort, high-energy team, we’re not giving ourselves a chance to win. It’s that simple. Home or on the road, the challenge is when things start to go south for us, is not letting that thing just steamroll us. Young or old, we just have to get better with it. The discipline to stick with what we do and trust in each other and trust the system.”