Another Angry Opponent

0-3 Nuggets – in their home opener – next challenge for winless Pistons

The Pistons and Nuggets are both looking for their first win of the season.
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
DENVER – If you’re not following along with your pocket schedule as this eternal Pistons road trip bumps along, let me catch you up to date. They’ve left the frying pan, headed for the fire.

A day after playing the 0-3 and angry Los Angeles Lakers, the Pistons headed east for a Tuesday date with the 0-3 and peeved Denver Nuggets. That starts a stretch of four games in five nights. Yeah, life isn’t presenting the Pistons any breaks as they scramble to crawl out of the 0-3 hole in which their 2012-13 season presently sits.

The Pistons lost double-digit leads against both Houston and Phoenix, but never gave themselves a chance in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers. They fell behind by 21 points after a quarter and were 36 down midway through the third when Lawrence Frank yanked his starters and let an energetic second unit play it out.

“We’ve played well in stretches, but we have big gaps in games where we just don’t play well,” said one of those bench players, Kyle Singler. “Whether we’re tired or whatever, we just have play through things, just know that we’re not going to play perfect basketball and just keep on playing for a whole game,”

That’s going to be of supreme importance at Denver, where the Nuggets will be playing their home opener following three tough road losses at Philadelphia, Orlando and Miami. It was that last game, a 119-116 Saturday setback, in which the Nuggets appeared to hit their stride. A high-scoring, high-pace team, Denver was uncharacteristically snail-like in its first two games, scoring 75 at Philadelphia and 89 at Orlando.

Nobody gets it up and cranks it up faster than George Karl’s Nuggets, when they’re right, and especially at home they will look to push. When they see that transition defense has been a challenge for the Pistons in the preseason and the early going, it figures they’ll redouble their focus on running at every opportunity.

And that makes the shooting woes of the Pistons’ starting backcourt particularly vexing. Rodney Stuckey is an inexplicable 1 of 23 for the season, 0 for 13 so far on this road trip, while Brandon Knight is 11 of 35 after a 1 of 8 showing at the Staples Center. When those misses come at the rim, as a good number of them have, it leaves the Pistons especially vulnerable in transition. The lack of perimeter shooting hasn’t made things any easier inside for Greg Monroe and others to find space to operate, either.

“Many times when you miss at the rim, it results in them scoring at the rim because of your floor balance,” Lawrence Frank said. “You’ve got one, two, three guys within 3 to 5 feet of the basket. Some of it, though, is just giving better effort. Quite frankly, we have to do more and do harder to get back and match up. The third part is just awareness. Sometimes we have a habit of trying to run back to our own man and that’s not going to get it done.”

Among Frank’s defensive principles, the three perimeter Pistons – both guards and the small forward – are charged with sprinting back on defense when a teammate rises to shoot. Not when the shot is released – when the shooter rises before releasing. There are some exceptions – a small forward in the paint goes for the rebound, a power forward outside the paint and above the foul line gets back – but the bottom line is the Pistons need to be more vigilant about retreating in transition.

That wasn’t a factor against the Lakers, especially with Steve Nash sidelined. Blessed with two 7-footers and 3-point shooting, the Lakers are content to bludgeon teams in the half-court offense. They scored just 11 of their 108 points in Sunday’s game in transition. Ahead on this trip, though, all four teams – Denver, Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Houston – will look to score before the Pistons get set defensively.

Nobody which way a team wants to play, the Pistons simply have to make it more difficult for them to score. They’ve been outshot in all three games, with Houston shooting nearly 50 percent (49.4) and the Lakers finishing at 51.9 percent after hovering well above 60 until midway through the third quarter when the game was turned over largely to the Los Angeles bench.

“Too many easy baskets, too many open shots,” Jonas Jerebko lamented after the game. “We’ve just got to do a better job and play together and get this game in Denver.”