Perfect at The Palace
That bodes well for the season opener, when Houston visits next Wednesday, and rather ominously for the next six games that comprise the season’s longest road trip in both number of games, days away from home and distances traveled.
The common denominator in the home/road dichotomy for the Pistons is the aggression with which they play at home and the absence of it on the road. Best example: After failing to corral a first-half offensive rebound in Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota at Winnipeg, the Pistons dominated the glass against Atlanta. They finished with a 48-30 advantage and for a good stretch of the first half the Pistons had as many offensive rebounds as Atlanta had total rebounds.
“That’s the thing we put emphasis on in practice,” said Jason Maxiell, who helped set a tone with two put-back baskets in the first eight minutes. “Attack the paint, attack the paint. The first (half) against Minnesota, we had no offensive rebounds, so we tried to come in tonight and attack the boards, offensively and defensively.”
At the center of their backboard control: Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. With foul trouble limiting the availability of Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko, Frank played the two young big men together for the final nine minutes of the third quarter – easily their most protracted stretch of the preseason.
Monroe had seven points, three boards, two steals and an assist in the quarter alone; Drummond had six points, six rebounds, a blocked shot and a generally menacing presence that helped the Pistons expand their 11-point halftime lead to 16.
“I think we played well together,” said Monroe, who finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. “As we get better at it and more comfortable, I think it will become a good lineup, but we have to get comfortable. I have to work on some stuff defensively because the coverages change when you’re playing power forward. But as time passes, we’ll get better and better when we’re on the floor together.”
Drummond and Monroe spent the bulk of their time together against Atlanta’s two outstanding frontcourt players, Al Horford and Josh Smith, who combined for 19 points and 11 rebounds.
“Those two guys are All-Star-caliber players,” Monroe said. “It’s one of the best frontcourts. They’ve been together for a while now, so it definitely is a good test to play against those guys.”
It was a good bounce-back game for Drummond after his only flat performance of the preseason two nights earlier.
“He was very good,” Frank said. “He was disappointed in his performance against Minnesota and I thought he came out with really good energy – working the glass, running the floor – and I thought his teammates did a very good job finding him for easy baskets. He did a lot of encouraging things.”
Frank again went five deep into his bench in the first half, using the same bench players – Drummond, Jonas Jerebko, Kyle Singler, Will Bynum and Kim English – as in Winnipeg. Bynum had seven assists in 17 minutes and Singler eight points, hitting two triples.
The Pistons now get a day off and three days of practice before hosting Houston in the opener.
“I like our spirit,” Frank said. “I like our group. I like the fact that when we’ve had disappointing nights or days, we’ve bounced back and been resilient. I like the fact that outside of maybe two times, we’ve practiced really, really hard and really, really well. I like the fact that our guys support each other. I like the fact that our guys know we have a lot of things to work on to get better and are willing to do it. Those are the things I’m encouraged by.”