LA Story

Pistons, Lakers both chasing season’s first win in Sunday matchup

The Pistons and Lakers are both looking for their first win of the season.
Dan Lippitt (NBAE/Getty)
WESTWOOD, Calif. – The Pistons are 0-2, the Lakers 0-3. Guess which story is drawing more attention?

After somehow adding both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol core over the off-season despite being hopelessly capped out, the Lakers were supposed to win 70 games … in the minds of Lakers fans, at least.

So starting 0-3 for the first time in 34 years has registered on Richter scales in La-La Land.

And now it goes beyond the losses. Nash has a small leg fracture; he’ll miss at least the next week. Howard had off-season back surgery but played heavy minutes in the first two losses; he played only 30 in Friday’s loss and wasn’t himself. Bryant has been limping on a sore foot; he scored 40 points against the Clippers on Friday but left in a walking boot.

Oh, and Mike Brown has a warm posterior, the result of the seat on which the embattled Lakers coach sits getting a little toasty.

So, Lawrence Frank, how are things in your world?

“We have to play more committed basketball for longer stretches at a time,” he said after Saturday’s practice at UCLA leading to Sunday night’s matchup with the Lakers. “We’ve had stretches of good basketball. But to win, we’ve got to put together a far more complete game.”

Talk of the Lakers’ demise starts Frank’s head wagging.

“They’ll be fine,” he said. “They played one exhibition game together. I don’t understand why everyone’s talking about their offense. Look what they’re averaging. They’re going to get it together. They’re very, very talented, very well coached. They’ll figure it out. They’ll be fine. We just hope they’re not fine tomorrow.”

The Pistons have their own concerns, of course. If there were two players coming into the season who were poised to at least make a bid for a spot in the All-Star game, they were Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey. So far, both are struggling to find their stride, Stuckey especially.

In two games, Stuckey – who played exactly like an All-Star for nearly a two-month stretch last year between nagging injuries – has made one shot. In 17 tries. He’s been dealing with migraine headaches and only played 21 minutes of Friday’s three-point loss at Phoenix, leaving for good midway through the third quarter.

Frank said Stuckey went through practice, but in the roughly 30 minutes following practice when players were going through individual drills with position coaches at the six baskets around the UCLA practice court, Stuckey did very little and eventually sat off to the side appearing uncomfortable.

Monroe’s struggles aren’t as pronounced – 12 points, 7 rebounds a game on 40 percent shooting – but they aren’t what anyone expects or what the Pistons will require over the long haul to realize their goals. Part of the problem is Monroe’s mid-range jump shot – which he worked on exhaustively over the summer and shot with supreme confidence throughout training camp – has been erratic. He’s been tentative in shooting it. And when he tries to move inside, the lack of perimeter shooting the Pistons have exhibited has made it easy for defenses to gang up on him.

A bright spot out of Friday’s loss was the play of Andre Drummond, who led the Pistons with eight rebounds to go along with a pair of blocks and five points in 19 active minutes. Perhaps the most fascinating subplot of Sunday’s Pistons-Lakers matchup will be whether Frank chooses to match Drummond with Howard in doses to counter the Lakers’ great size with Howard and Gasol. Could we see the first stretch of Monroe and Drummond together in the regular season?

Maybe, Frank said. The plan, in fact, was to use it some in Friday’s loss at Phoenix. But Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko played too well to tinker with the normal rotation, he said.

“We’ll see – it’s a definite possibility. Max has been playing very, very well. I’d hate to take Max out of the equation without giving him a chance. Max actually does a good job with his post fronts against bigger guys as well as anyone we have on our team. Andre, even last night, we were thinking going into the game about playing Andre against a (Luis) Scola-(Marcin) Gortat front line, but Max gave us great production and Jonas was playing well. We went in that direction.”

One other lineup wrinkle Frank unveiled in Friday’s second half: using Tayshaun Prince and Kyle Singler in the same lineup. Look for it again, especially when the matchup is favorable for Singler, as it was in Phoenix with the Suns playing Jared Dudley at shooting guard.

“If they have a smaller, kind of cat-quick guard, that may influence substitutions, but I thought it went fairly well,” Frank said.