True Blue Pistons - December 2012

About Keith Langlois
Award-winning journalist Keith Langlois, most recently lead sports columnist at The Oakland Press, joined Pistons.com as the web site editor on October 2, 2006. Langlois, who brings over 27 years of professional sports journalism experience to Palace Sports & Entertainment, serves as Pistons.com's official beat writer and covers the team on a daily basis.

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Posted Sunday, December 30, 2012

If the first day of the new year is a time for resolutions of intent for the 365 days to come, then the last day of the old year is a time to reflect on events leading to the transition.

Because the lockout skewed the 2011-12 season, a year-over-year comparison is less relevant than a season-over-season look. At 11-22, the Pistons have the same record after 33 games as they did in 2011-12.

But that doesn’t tell nearly enough of the story. The average margin of defeat in the 22 losses a year ago was 14.7; this year, it’s 9.4. Only seven of the 22 losses a season ago weren’t by double digits; this year, 11 of them have been under 10 points and six have been under five, double last year’s total.

Overall, the Pistons were a minus-10.0 points through 33 games a season ago, but a mere minus 1.7 this season.

“When people say, ‘Have you gotten better? You’ve got identical records, so you really haven’t gotten better,’ look, I’m not going to get on a soapbox, but we have gotten better,” Lawrence Frank said. “Are we where we want to be? Of course not. We’re disappointed with where we’re at, but that point differential league-wide is usually a very good barometer for where we’re at.

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Posted Sunday, December 30, 2012

Remember all those leads the Pistons frittered away in the first quarter of the season, losing eight games in which they led by double digits at some point? Yeah, well, the Pistons aren’t fooling themselves that they suddenly have the magic formula for protecting leads, but that’s two straight at The Palace over 48 hours in which they held on against hard charges from two of the Eastern Conference’s winningest teams.

Following their stirring win over Miami on Friday, when the defending NBA champions cut a 10-point deficit to four in the first minute of the fourth quarter but wound up losing by 10, the Pistons knocked off Milwaukee on Sunday after losing all of a 15-point lead but scoring the game’s final four points to win 96-94.

“I definitely feel like we’re responding better,” said the night’s star, Tayshaun Prince, who scored 20 points including those precious final four points on Detroit’s last two possessions – a 5-foot hook in the paint over Mike Dunleavy to tie it with 50 seconds left, then two free throws to put the Pistons ahead by what would be the winning margin with 11 seconds to go.

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Posted Saturday, December 29, 2012

The synergy of the Pistons’ five-man second unit that’s been nothing less than spectacular for the past week is the type that screams its logic on paper but rarely translates to action quite so seamlessly.

Over the past four games – or just two games after Austin Daye replaced Corey Maggette at small forward in a bench unit that also includes Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Andre Drummond and Will Bynum – Lawrence Frank’s backups have averaged 62.2 points, outscoring the starters decisively in the last three games.

Even without Stuckey available for Friday’s stirring 109-99 win over defending champion Miami before a sold-out Palace crowd, the parts still meshed with such absolute precision that the bench erased a 15-point deficit in just minutes during a 41-point second-quarter outburst that was an ode to teamwork.

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Posted Friday, December 28, 2012

If once is an oddity, twice a coincidence and three times a trend, then four times is verging onto hard-core evidence. For four straight games, the Pistons’ bench has been somewhere between very good and awesome, never better than they were Friday night when they reversed a 15-point deficit and led a 109-99 win over defending NBA champion Miami before a Palace sellout.

“I don’t know our numbers, but I can tell we’re playing well together,” said Austin Daye, who made 4 of 5 shots in an 11-point night, one of the new bench mainstays. “We’re knocking down shots. We’re a big threat out there. When you’ve got Will (Bynum) and Rodney (Stuckey) in pick and roll, and Andre (Drummond) diving and you’ve got me and Charlie (Villanueva) and whoever else out there, the floor is really spread out.

“We do it to the first unit in practice and they try to figure things out against us – how to defend us. It’s making us and them better.”

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Posted Friday, December 28, 2012

Miami will be without Dwyane Wade, suspended for sticking his foot in the groin of Charlotte’s Ramon Sessions. The Pistons might be without the player who wears No. 3 due to his affinity for Wade, Rodney Stuckey, whose foot landed awkwardly on the critical play to force two overtimes in a crushing loss at Atlanta on Wednesday.

With or without Stuckey, the anchor of a second unit that has outscored Detroit starters by an average of 15 points per game over the last three, the Pistons have their hands full with the defending NBA champions, coming off a Christmas Day repeat of their 2012 NBA Finals win over Oklahoma City. Miami owns a conference-best 20-6 record and six-game winning streak into tonight’s game at The Palace.

From Lawrence Frank’s perspective, Miami has fewer chinks in its armor than at any time since bringing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to town to join forces with Wade.

“They know exactly what they need to do in order to win a championship,” he said. “We saw them in the preseason game – when they lock in and guard you, they’re the best in the league. They combine basketball IQ, athleticism, speed, strength, system and they put it all together. They’ve got the best player in the world, another guy who’s top five best player in the world, another guy who’s top 25 best player in the world surrounded by the right role players … and you’re bringing Ray Allen off the bench? Yeah, they’re good.”

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Posted Thursday, December 27, 2012

If only Austin Daye’s 3-pointer to give the Pistons a one-point lead after making up a 22-point deficit had come at the buzzer instead of with four seconds left. If only Will Bynum’s layup on their last possession of the first overtime had been laid off the backboard with an ounce less force. If only …

Had the Pistons been able to finish off a remarkable comeback and won at Atlanta after trailing 84-62 with 10:58 left in Wednesday’s fourth quarter, they’d be carrying the season’s first three-game winning streak into a much-anticipated Friday game with defending NBA champion Miami and looking at tangible proof of the ground they’ve covered since the season tipped off nearly two months ago.

Now? Now the challenge is to somehow build off of all of the positives that comeback entailed – the audacity of their bench in believing they had a shot, the chemistry that group has developed in recent games, the continued consistent contributions of Andre Drummond – while massaging out the negatives that led to the 22-point hole and producing wins out of winnable games.

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Posted Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Will Bynum, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye have spent major chunks of the season on the outside of Lawrence Frank’s rotation looking in. On Wednesday night in Atlanta, Frank rode them through the fourth quarter and two overtimes as they wiped out a 22-point Pistons deficit.

On a night the Pistons started slow and finished strong, the game ultimately just went on too long. A bench unit that hung 85 points on the scoreboard ran out of gas in the second overtime, losing 126-119 to the Hawks.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Bynum said after his 31-point night, 26 coming after the third quarter. “We knew if we could get stops, we were able to score in transition and pick and rolls. So we just kept trying to get back, piece by piece. We finally got there and had an opportunity to win. Missed a layup. Can’t believe it.”

The Pistons had gaping opportunities to win it in both regulation and overtime. After Daye’s triple put the Pistons ahead by a point with four seconds left in regulation, they had to foul Al Horford when he slipped away from Andre Drummond and forced overtime by splitting his free throws. Bynum missed a layup after blowing through the defense with three seconds left in the first overtime, delivering the game to a second overtime.

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Posted Monday, December 24, 2012

As luck would have it, the schedule that’s been so demanding of the Pistons through the season’s first two months turns soft just as they’ve mustered some momentum. Coming off a weekend home-and-home sweep of Washington, the Pistons head into Christmas in the midst of their first three-day break since they tipped off on Oct. 31.

Only twice in the intervening weeks have they had as many as two straight days without a game. And now the NBA tells ’em to kick back and cool it?

“It is what it is,” Lawrence Frank said after Monday’s practice, pushed up earlier than usual to allow players and coaches to spend as much time as possible with family and friends on Christmas eve. “They ain’t changing it. Just like they weren’t changing it when we played the most games. You look at our record and the Wizards’ record and you realize how many more games we’ve played. But it all catches up to you. When you have days off, it’s the balance between rest and recovery and work. You just take advantage of it the way it is.”

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Posted Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Washington Wizards hoped a change in venue and the return of Nene and Bradley Beal would be enough to close the 32-point gap that separated them from the Pistons in Friday night’s massacre at The Palace. Maybe if Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe and Elvin Hayes had joined Nene and Beal, they would have had a fighting chance.

It wasn’t quite as easy as it was in the first of the rare home-and-home set, but the Pistons thrice stopped Washington’s momentum before their comebacks could wipe out big leads for a 96-87 win that sent them home happy for Christmas.

“It’s always difficult playing a team two nights in a row,” said Greg Monroe, who returned to the arena where he played college basketball for his two seasons at Georgetown and put up 13 points and eight rebounds. “In this league, guys are so good at making adjustments. We did a good job of withstanding their run in the second half. We came out with a lot of energy in the first half and we were able to hold them off.”

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Posted Friday, December 21, 2012

The Washington Wizards have picked ahead of the Pistons in each of the last three drafts. Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond gave them plenty to ponder for those decisions on Friday night.

Nobody had any bigger impact on the Pistons’ 100-68 rout than the three lottery picks. Monroe had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes; Knight scored 11 first-quarter points to kick-start the demolition en route to 15 points and four assists in 30 minutes; and Drummond set season highs for rebounds and blocks in a dominant 21-minute run.

“We can’t get too high right now,” Monroe said, well aware Washington gets its shot at turning the tables on Saturday at the Verizon Center, where he played his college games at Georgetown. “We have to figure out what we have to clean up. We’re expecting some different people to play tomorrow for them.”

You’d forgive the Wizards if they wished three of those different people in Washington uniforms were named Monroe, Knight and Drummond.

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(Editor's note: Last in a series of stories with Joe Dumars and his perspective on the Pistons.)

Kyle Singler starts and Andre Drummond’s role grows more prominent by the week. Khris Middleton, Kim English and Slava Kravtsov are the three you don’t see. But Joe Dumars sees them every day in practice. And what he sees gives him confidence that Pistons fans will get their chance to see for themselves someday.

It’s highly unusual for an NBA team to carry five rookies, but the Pistons look at Singler and Kravtsov as unusual cases – Singler for the four-year Duke career followed by a year of professional seasoning in Spain, Kravtsov for his vast pro experience in his native Ukraine.

Until Greg Monroe becomes more of a full-time power forward than a center, though, there really isn’t room for both Drummond and Kravtsov in the rotation. Next season will provide an opportunity for the Pistons to make that switch, but if it happens sooner for any reason Joe D would feel at ease with Kravtsov’s readiness.

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Posted Thursday, December 20, 2012

With all due respect for the Mayans, Lawrence Frank isn’t banking on the end of the world to solve the Pistons’ issues with closing out games.

“Go figure,” he shrugged after Thursday’s practice, the last the Pistons would ever hold if the Mayan prediction that Armageddon is at hand proves out. “This is like the 400th time the world was supposed to end. Now we’re putting it on the Mayans. I follow the Aztec calendar.”

If it tracks with the NBA calendar, the Pistons will host Washington on Friday night looking to snap not only a six-game losing streak but a season-long stigma of being unfailingly doomed to defeat when they trail after three quarters.

The Pistons are 0-17 in such circumstances, which makes it a far more pressing problem than the one that previously drew public attention: the eight losses incurred in games they at some point led by double digits.

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Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The parting advice Lawrence Frank gave Kim English and Khris Middleton before embarking on their D-League adventure proved accurate, the rookies confirmed upon their return to the Pistons.

“It was true,” Kim English said of Frank’s warning that D-Leaguers would come at them with extra relish because they had what those player wanted – one of the coveted NBA roster spots. “They know when an NBA guy is on the court and they definitely want to get that name against you. They definitely want to attack you.”

English’s response: Bring it on. “With me, be it Kobe Bryant or the 13th player on a D-League team, I respect every player enough to try to kill ’em, to try to destroy ’em. I didn’t look at them like they were in the D-League; I looked at them like they were 10-year vets and I attacked them before there was even a chance to get attacked.”

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Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TORONTO – Crazy game, basketball. When last the Pistons saw Toronto, the two best players on the floor for the Raptors – by a mile – were Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry. The Pistons won that game, Brandon Knight scoring on a twisting layup at the buzzer. With both Bargnani and Lowry nursing injuries, the Raptors won their fourth straight game Wednesday night, the Pistons their latest victims, and it was their sixth straight defeat.

More crazy stuff. Toronto kept its field-goal percentage at or above 60 percent until the final minute of the third quarter, yet the Pistons were right there. Neither team led by more than seven points at that juncture and the Pistons were just two back headed to the fourth quarter. Then the Pistons held Toronto to 27 percent shooting in the fourth quarter – and saw their two-point deficit triple in a 97-91 loss.

Two points down headed to the fourth quarter might as well be 22 so far this season for a young team struggling to survive what Lawrence Frank calls “the moment of truth.” With Wednesday’s loss, the Pistons fell to 0-17 in games where they trail – by any margin – after three quarters.

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Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Austin Daye didn’t do much to dent the stat sheet in his first game as part of Lawrence Frank’s rotation after spending the season’s first 26 on the outside looking in. In 18 minutes, he made 1 of 2 shots, grabbed a couple of rebounds and dished out an assist.

Yet it’s a measure of Daye’s maturity, evident both in his play on the court and his demeanor away from it, that Frank saw evidence the fourth-year player whose career has been marked by the search for a positional home can help even when he isn’t putting up numbers.

“I thought Austin did well. I thought he was solid,” Frank said. “He only took two shots, but he was engaged on the boards in terms of keeping balls alive, he took an NBA foul against Blake Griffin when we got beat on an early postup, he made simple plays. For a guy who hasn’t played for the entire year, he did very, very well.”

Daye came to the Pistons as a small forward, spent most of his time a season ago playing shooting guard and then was converted to power forward over the off-season. When Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko won the starting and backup sports in a four-way preseason competition, Daye and Charlie Villanueva both opened the season outside the rotation.

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(Editor’s note: Fifth in a series of stories with Joe Dumars and his perspective on the Pistons.)

When the Pistons wrapped up business the night of the 2011 draft, it was well documented that they never anticipated coming away with Brandon Knight with the No. 8 pick. At worst, Knight was expected to be off the board at No. 5, going to Toronto, if he didn’t get taken first by Utah, choosing third.

Less reported was the fact they were equally delighted to land Kyle Singler with the third pick in the second round, the second of the two No. 2 picks they received from Toronto in the 2007 trade that shipped Carlos Delfino to the Raptors.

The Pistons didn’t think Singler would get past the Chicago Bulls, who went into the draft holding two late first-rounders. But Chicago traded one away, to Miami, and with the other the Bulls took another small forward, Marquette’s Jimmy Butler. They also suspected that Oklahoma City, picking 24th, was a possibility to grab Singler, but the Thunder instead went for Boston College point guard Reggie Jackson.

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Posted Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Playing time is a zero-sum game. There are 240 minutes to go around – five players at a time multiplied by 48 minutes in a regulation game – and that’s not enough to satisfy 15 players. When Charlie Villanueva finally got his chance at a spot in the Pistons’ rotation in late November, it meant Jonas Jerebko was out. When Austin Daye moved into the rotation as Tayshaun Prince’s backup in the season’s 27th game on Monday, it came at the expense of Corey Maggette.

Lawrence Frank’s rotation was 10 deep when the season started, then essentially was cut to nine when Will Bynum lost his spot as Frank sought to not only extend the minutes of Rodney Stuckey but find ways to put the basketball in his hands more frequently.

Frank often says that though the skill sets of his players are different, the talent level that separates those in the rotation from those on the outside is less distinct. So even if there is a razor-thin margin in determining the benefits of playing Villanueva or Jerebko, for instance, the reality is stark: one plays, the other sits.

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Posted Tuesday, December 18, 2012

(Editor’s note: Fourth in a series of stories with Joe Dumars and his perspective on the Pistons.)

Joe Dumars had just one overarching objective for Brandon Knight’s second season: to take the next steps toward becoming the engine that drives the Pistons as their point guard.

“He seems more and more comfortable at the position,” the Pistons president of basketball operations said. “He’s starting to see a lot more things and he’s taking the steps he needs to take. It’s been encouraging to watch him grow into his role and that’s all you’re really looking for from that position. You have to know when to attack, know when to give it up, know when to just control your team. He’s still a young guy. He’s probably played about 90 games now. He’s still learning, but I like the direction that he’s headed in.”

Knight’s assists per game are up from 3.8 as a rookie to 4.9 this season. In the off-season, Knight said he was comfortable that his teammates respected him for his work ethic and would be ready for him to assume a leadership role. He added that he was going to make sure they also knew he was an unselfish player and spent the preseason seemingly passing up scoring chances to prove the point.

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Posted Monday, December 17, 2012

The Pistons knew the storm was coming. They packed sandbags along the river, sealed up their windows and took to high ground. But there’s only so much practical preparation possible. When the dam blows, things get wet.

For one half, the Pistons took meticulous care of the basketball against the team that creates more havoc than any in the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers came to The Palace with a nine-game winning streak in which they’d blown out many teams in the first quarter and won going away. But they led by just two points at halftime, in large measure because the Pistons were on pace to commit just 12 turnovers for the game – more than five below par for a Los Angeles thievery unit spearheaded by All-Star Chris Paul.

Eleven seconds into the third quarter, the Pistons coughed it up a seventh time, immediately converted in to a Willie Green dunk. As foreshadowing goes, that was an ominous sign. The Clippers forced 11 second-half turnovers and, more grievously, converted them into 18 points. On a night the Pistons were struggling for scoring, especially from a bench missing Rodney Stuckey due to back spasms, the 25 points the Clippers scored off turnovers were 28 percent of their total in an 88-76 win.

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Posted Monday, December 17, 2012

There’s a spirited debate in New York for which team owns the city, the Knicks or the newly relocated Nets, but not much of an argument to be made in Los Angeles. Long a thoroughly one-sided rivalry, the Clippers arrive at The Palace holding a healthy seven-game lead over the reeling Lakers.

They also arrive as perhaps the NBA’s hottest team, not only sporting a nine-game winning streak but a margin of victory of 15.3 points per game over that span. For the season, only Oklahoma City – on a 10-game winning streak of its own – has a higher average winning margin than the Clippers.

“They’re playing at a very high level and they’re doing it in the first quarter,” Lawrence Frank said after Monday’s morning shootaround. “Defensively, they turn you over and they convert your turnovers into dunks. They have as deep a team as there is in the league and that’s minus Chauncey (Billups, out tonight with tendinitis but returned from last season’s Achilles tendon rupture) and minus Grant Hill.”

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Posted Sunday, December 16, 2012

(Editor’s note: Third in a series of stories coming on Pistons.com over the next several days with Joe Dumars and his perspective on the Pistons.)

Virtually from the moment the Pistons saw Greg Monroe fall to them in the 2010 draft, the search was on for a complementary frontcourt fit. Alongside the offensively skilled Monroe, Joe Dumars hoped to find a shot-swatting, rim-protecting, floor-running 7-footer.

From central casting, along came Andre Drummond two years later. Barring any curveballs, the Pistons expect Monroe and Drummond to form a long and fruitful partnership, eventually carrying the franchise back to title contention as they mature and the pieces are set in place around the bedrock foundation they promise.

But that point, somewhere out there in the future, doesn’t cloud Joe D’s view of the present.

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Posted Saturday, December 15, 2012

Joe Johnson’s shot at the buzzer of double overtime cost the Pistons a win on Friday night, but Saturday’s loss traces to even before that – to the rebound the Pistons couldn’t corral at the end of regulation in Brooklyn when grabbing it would have sealed a win and eliminated the need for 10 more minutes of basketball.

Never mind that it would have delivered them home to bed nearly an hour earlier, it was the drain of playing 58 minutes – with four core players logging 40 or more minutes – that really cut the legs out from underneath the Pistons in their 88-77 slugfest with Indiana.

The Pistons spotted the Pacers an early 15-0 run, recovered to tie before the first quarter was out and held their own for the next two quarters in a hand-to-hand combat game in which style points were negligible.

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Posted Friday, December 14, 2012

NEW YORK – If a team’s development is pushed along in direct proportion to the pain absorbed in the inevitable losses along the way, then the Pistons will someday mark a huge growth spurt that began the night of their historic first visit to Brooklyn.

Overcoming a 17-point deficit – in a cruel twist of irony, the exact margin of lead they held in their two most recent home games, both losses – against a likely playoff-bound team, the Pistons held a six-point lead with 1:32 to go in regulation. They had clean looks to win the game at the end of both regulation and the first overtime, first from Brandon Knight and later from Rodney Stuckey, and they led by three in the second overtime.

But Joe Johnson, one of the handful of high-priced players either acquired or retained over a splashy off-season that accompanied the Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, drained a long 2-point jump shot over Tayshaun Prince as the buzzer sounded in the second overtime to break a tie and gore the Pistons in a 107-105 defeat.

“We showed great resolve, great fight and we competed extremely hard,” Lawrence Frank said. “There’s no one happy with the consolation prize. Disappointed that we came up short, because in both regulation and both overtimes, we got the stop – we just couldn’t finish the play.”

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Posted Friday, December 14, 2012

(Editor’s note: Second in a series of stories coming on Pistons.com over the next several with Joe Dumars and his perspective on the Pistons.)

Joe Dumars played with Dennis Rodman and traded for Ben Wallace. He knows a thing or two about players with the rare ability to consistently make take-your-breath-away defensive plays.

He sees that quality in Andre Drummond. With all the caveats about the distance Drummond still must travel to match those players for durability and consistent impact, it’s so far, so good from Joe D’s perspective.

“He has the ability to make the ‘wow’ play,” Dumars said this week. “To have a guy who can make those plays, especially on the defensive end, certainly can be infectious to your team. We’ve seen that over the years here in Detroit. We’ve had guys who can make those incredible defensive plays and he’s shown early on that he has the ability to make those plays. That’s a big plus for us.”

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Posted Friday, December 14, 2012

BROOKLYN – Lawrence Frank has mixed feelings about facing the franchise that gave him his first head coaching opportunity. He’s happy for the people who brought to life what often seemed a pipedream, but wistful that the rebirth of the Nets in Brooklyn came at the expense of fans in his native New Jersey.

“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” he said. “You hate to see your state lose a team, yet I do know all the equity they put into it. So I’m happy for them.”

Frank attended the Barclays Center opening event, a Jay-Z concert, at the invitation of the Nets. The construction of the arena took years of negotiations for property in Brooklyn that came amid controversy and over the complains of citizens groups protesting the dislocation of Brooklyn residents to make way for a project that included residential and commercial development, as well.

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Posted Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lawrence Frank gave Khris Middleton and Kim English a bit of advice before shipping them off to Fort Wayne after Thursday’s practice. It had little to do with X’s and O’s and more about mind-set.

“They have to understand when they go down there, everybody’s gunning for them, because they have what everybody else wants,” Frank said. “Trust me, they think they deserve it. That’s why they’re there, not in Europe making more money.”

The Pistons rookies, taken five spots apart in the 2012 draft’s second round, are likely to be with the Mad Ants for games Friday, Saturday and Tuesday before rejoining the Pistons in Toronto on Wednesday. Frank also reminded them to leave a good impression behind them.

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Posted Thursday, December 13, 2012

(Editor’s note: First in a series of stories coming on Pistons.com over the next several with Joe Dumars and his perspective on the Pistons.)

In the heat of the moment, losses like the last two the Pistons have endured at The Palace – seeing 17-point leads dissipate against both Chicago and Denver – are no easier for Joe Dumars to endure than they would have been during his playing days.

In the more measured moments of analysis required of his current job as president of basketball operations, he knows they constitute a virtually inevitable step in the evolution of a team being built without shortcuts.

“That’s usually how it plays out – you go through some heartbreaking losses,” he said.

“That’s a part of your learning curve. These are tough, hard-to-swallow losses that you inevitably have to go through. Even though you know it’s a process – you have to go through it – it’s still not easy to walk out and lose games where you feel you’ve been in control. That’s never easy.”

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Posted Wednesday, December 12, 2012

If an NBA player’s rookie season is the equivalent of a college graduate’s first-year pursuit of an advanced degree, then Kim English and Khris Middleton have wrapped up the first semester in the classroom and now are headed to the lab.

English and Middleton, second-round picks of the Pistons last June who’ve played sparingly over the season’s first 24 games, will head to Fort Wayne, Ind., for a planned three-game stint with the Pistons’ NBA D-League affiliate, the Mad Ants.

Why now as opposed to a month ago? The Pistons want their rookies to get a representative look at life in the NBA and soak up as much institutional knowledge as possible before applying those lessons in the D-League.

“We like them to get a good 20 to 25 percent of their first introduction to the NBA with us,” assistant general manager George David said. “Everybody has their preferences, but we feel it’s important for them to be around the team to start their NBA careers.”

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Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Four games in five nights? No problem. For half a quarter, at least.

The Pistons have played 24 games, two more than anybody else in the NBA, and the buzzsaw of their most recent stretch – not just four games in five nights, but five in seven and six in nine – overwhelmed them after they sprinted to a 21-4 start in the game’s first seven minutes Tuesday before losing 101-94 to Denver.

Their fatigue was at least as much mental as physical, from all appearances. For every jump shot that barely grazed the front rim during a game the Pistons struggled to get their accuracy up to 42 percent, there was a gaffe that allowed a JaVale McGee lob dunk over their heads or confusion on pick-and-roll coverages.

Example: midway through the fourth quarter, Brandon Knight leaves Gallinari – a deadly shooter in the throes of his own errant night – open from 22 feet, expecting Jason Maxiell to recover to him after an improvised pick-and-roll play executed by Ty Lawson.

Gallinari drained it, putting the Pistons nine points behind.

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Posted Monday, December 10, 2012

PHILADELPHIA – The last time the Pistons played at Philadelphia, they held the 76ers to 29 percent shooting, the worst the 76ers had ever shot at Wells Fargo Center. Oh, to have saved a few of those misses for this time around.

Philadelphia made exactly half its shots through three quarters – and then got hot. The 76ers drained 11 of 16 shots in the fourth quarter to prevent the Pistons – who forced three ties in the period, the last at 91-all on Charlie Villanueva’s 3-pointer with 5:25 left – from catching up and passing them.

“They were definitely in a rhythm tonight,” said Greg Monroe, whose 22 points matched Brandon Knight to lead four Pistons in double figures in their 104-97 loss. “We had to do a better job of disrupting that rhythm. They made shots in mid-range, some tough ones, and some of them we have to do a better job defending.”

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Posted Monday, December 10, 2012

PHILADELPHIA – The Pistons have gone 7-7 since their 0-8 start and tonight they return to the place where their about-face was executed, Philadelphia. That stretch coincided with the addition of Kyle Singler to the starting lineup. Singler subbed in th night of Nov. 14 for the ill Rodney Stuckey, who subsequently suggested to Lawrence Frank that he make the move permanent – or as permanent as it gets in the fluid world of the NBA.

But another tweak to Frank’s rotation can’t be overlooked, either.

The Pistons are 4-5 since Charlie Villanueva replaced Jonas Jerebko as the backup to Jason Maxiell at power forward, 3-12 before the move. There are way too many variables to make too much of that, of course – the 0-8 start that came against a daunting, road-heavy schedule, the most significant among them.

But it’s hard to ignore the spike in offensive productivity since Villanueva, arguably the most naturally gifted scorer on the roster, has become a factor.

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Posted Sunday, December 9, 2012

PHILADELPHIA – The Pistons folded three rookie perimeter players into their mix this season – and when it began, it wasn’t clear that there was room for even one of them in the rotation.

A few weeks into it, though, Rodney Stuckey’s illness opened a door to the starting lineup that Kyle Singler charged through. Kim English and Khris Middleton, from off the radar screen, have been loudly applauding.

“I’m elated,” English said the other day when I asked his reaction to Singler’s elevation to the starting lineup. “We work out together. I’m thrilled to see him take this opportunity and run with it and have a great rookie year. I’m excited.”

“Kyle’s doing a terrific job,” Middleton agreed. “He’s doing a lot of great things. I’m just glad he’s getting his chance and I know my chance will come soon.”

While Singler now does some conditioning tuneup work with Arnie Kander or engage in ballhandling or shooting drills after practices, English and Middleton do their heavy lifting before and after practices, playing in two-on-two or three-on-three games with other players who currently fall outside of Lawrence Frank’s playing rotation.

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Posted Saturday, December 8, 2012

CLEVELAND – Twice the Pistons were on the brink of getting run out of the building, twice Jason Maxiell reeled them in from the ledge.

Down 10 in the first half, Maxiell prevented an Anderson Varejao layup by taking a charge, sparking the Pistons on a 13-6 run to close within three at halftime. Down eight after a 10-0 Cleveland run early in the third quarter, Maxiell muscled his way for an offensive rebound and follow that stopped Cavs momentum and sparked the Pistons on a 19-6 run.

On a night the Pistons struggled with collective energy, Maxiell kept giving them reasons to believe they could still win the game. And so they did, a 104-97 win in their 22nd game, more than anyone else in the league.

“It’s things like that that I bring to the game every night,” Maxiell said. “I’m not going to be a high scorer, but I try to be a great defender.”

Lawrence Frank tried pushing buttons as the Pistons sputtered, allowing Cleveland to dominate the backboards by a 2-1 margin in the first half. Before going out to start the third quarter, he pulled Maxiell aside.

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Posted Friday, December 7, 2012

Remember a few years ago when the Pistons, in the midst of going to six straight conference finals, were accused of “flipping the switch?”

That switch was never flipped more suddenly or emphatically than it was after the most brilliant 20 minutes of basketball the Pistons have put together this season. With four minutes left before halftime, they’d already put up 53 points – and led by 17 – against the NBA’s No. 1 ranked scoring defense, Chicago’s.

Over the next nine minutes, the Bulls outscored them 28-11 to wipe all of that lead away. The Pistons had one turnover in those first 20 minutes when a Corey Maggette pass flew into the seats.

Switch, flipped.

That started a streak of seven straight possessions without a point, during which time the Pistons turned it over three times and missed five shots. When it ended, the Bulls had chopped 12 points off of their deficit. They passed the Pistons late in the third quarter and kept on charging on a night Joakim Noah played like a certifiable Hall of Famer.

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Derrick Rose might not be back all season, the league’s best bench has been dismantled by salary-cap implications and Rip Hamilton could be out until 2013. For all of that, the Chicago Bulls are still leading the Central Division.

They’re not the same Bulls and they’re not a very likely title contender without Rose, still recovering from the traumatic knee injury incurred in last season’s playoffs. But the cupboard isn’t exactly bare for the team that takes a 9-8 record into the first Pistons-Bulls matchup of the season tonight at The Palace.

“What you can’t ignore is they’ve got three bigs that would start for virtually any team in the league,” Lawrence Frank said. “(Joakim) Noah is an All-Star. (Carlos) Boozer has been an All-Star. (Taj) Gibson is a very, very good player.”

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Posted Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Pistons put zero expectations on Andre Drummond with regard to starting, cracking the rotation or racking up any kind of numbers. Their demands were simple: Work hard before, during and after practice and affect the game – if and when you get a chance to play – in the ways that your physical gifts allow.

So, yeah, flying colors.

Maybe in their most inner sanctum, maybe in their heart of hearts, Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank had more concrete goals in mind for Drummond, but there’s no reason not to take them at their word. Within minutes of drafting him last June, first Joe D and then Tom Gores and Frank, as well, put a voice to the unanimity of perspective on Drummond: He was 18, tremendously talented but clearly in need of development, and the organization intended to exercise every bit of patience required – so long as Drummond proved a willing learner, a team player and a competitor.

Check, check and check.

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Posted Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whatever the Pistons become, Golden State will have played a significant role in the outcome. Twice in the last three drafts, the Warriors picked ahead of Detroit. In 2010, they selected Epke Udoh at No. 6 and left Greg Monroe for the Pistons. Two years later, Golden State took Harrison Barnes at No. 7 and left Andre Drummond for the Pistons, picking two spots later.

The book is pretty much closed on the 2010 draft, the Warriors having tossed Udoh into a bigger trade last year that centered around Andrew Bogut and Monta Ellis, a tacit concession that they erred in passing on Monroe.

Drummond gave them plenty more to think about Wednesday night with his longest NBA stint and perhaps his best game as a professional. In 31 minutes, Drummond gave the Pistons more than the 15 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots – he gave them life when they appeared lifeless in both the first and second halves.

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Posted Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tonight’s Pistons opponent, Golden State, comes to The Palace fresh off a home loss to the Orlando Magic. There might be 28 NBA teams that would be prone to complacency at that news. The 29th is the Pistons, who’ve been humbled twice by the shorthanded Magic already this season.

To extend their Palace winning streak to six games, the Pistons will have to deal with a Golden State team that owns the fifth-best record, 10-7, in the Western Conference, and until its Orlando loss led the Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division.

“They’ve won seven of their last 10,” Lawrence Frank said of the Warriors, no longer the run ’n’ stun bunch that made Nellie Ball famous yet still a team led by dangerous scorers. “(Stephen) Cury is playing at a very, very high level. David Lee gave us fits last year. As a group, as a team, a coach, you can never get complacent and comfortable.”

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Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Pistons, it seems, are inching closer to the “defense-first” mind-set Lawrence Frank preaches. Just don’t tell him that.

When I mentioned to Frank before Monday’s win over Cleveland that the Pistons had suddenly rocketed to No. 7 in the league in field-goal percentage defense, his head dropped and a grimace twisted his face. Uh-oh, don’t jinx it, he seemed to be saying.

Then the Pistons went out and held Cleveland to 32 of 95 shooting, a less-than-robust .337 accuracy mark, and when they woke up on Tuesday the Pistons had taken another leap forward. They’re now No. 3 in the NBA, behind only Indiana and Oklahoma City, and have held opponents to .428 shooting this season.

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Posted Monday, December 3, 2012

The Pistons don’t yet have all the tools in place to win games in every conceivable manner. But they have at least one more than they’ve possessed since Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace were inflicting punishment on shooters brazen enough to challenge them at the rim.

The Pistons blocked 13 Cleveland shots in Monday’s 89-79 win, courtesy of six different players, and that was as critical as any other element of their defense in limiting the shorthanded Cavaliers to 34 percent shooting.

“It started with Jason Maxiell,” said Andre Drummond, who picked up the baton nicely, adding three blocks of his own to the five Maxiell contributed. “He got the whole flow of the game going with some of the blocked shots he had and some of the strong finishes he had around the rim. Just watching him got me going, too.”

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Posted Monday, December 3, 2012

Despite lugging two losses home with them, it wasn’t a lost weekend for the Pistons. They had their chances to win at both Memphis and Dallas but for fatal flaws – a spate of turnovers against the Grizzlies, a rash of missed shots near the rim against the Mavs. Now they’re back home for their first three-game stretch at The Palace this season and a chance to build on a four-game winning streak on their floor.

“You just want to get back to playing a complete game,” Lawrence Frank said after the morning shootaround in preparation for Cleveland’s visit. “It’s an opportunity to continue to build on the good will that we have on our court.”

That’s what the Pistons have to hang their hat on right now. They haven’t completely erased the 0-8 start from their memories, but they at least have the evidence of their home winning streak that playing hard for 48 minutes keeps them in games and gives them chances to win. The Memphis-Dallas trip was disappointing, but wasn’t really a setback for their confidence in the viability of that formula.

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Posted Sunday, December 2, 2012

Aside from the fact that their heads stretch 6 foot 8 inches from the floor, Kyle Singler and Dennis Rodman wouldn’t seem to have much in common other than the NBA uniform they first pulled over those heads.

Rodman was a freakish athlete whose ticket to the Hall of Fame was punched at the defensive end and for his ability to outrun the basketball. Singler, though an underrated athlete, is a more skilled player whose path to the NBA was cleared by his innate understanding of how to play the game. Rodman took an unlikely journey to the NBA, routed through one of college basketball’s dustiest bins, Southeastern Oklahoma State. Singler, a McDonald’s All-American, starred on its biggest stage at Duke.

But at the root of their success – though Singler has only taken the first step on a path Rodman successfully navigated for 14 years – is this: They never played a game where they were outworked.

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Posted Saturday, December 1, 2012

DALLAS – Here’s the way it usually works with developing NBA teams: They get one problem addressed, another one crops up out of nowhere. Sometimes, it seems like an endless cycle. And sometimes, problems addressed once circle their way back into the mix before cycling out of their system.

So it is for the Pistons these days. On a Friday night in Memphis, turnovers undermine their shot to beat the team with the NBA’s best record. On a Saturday night in Dallas, frustration bubbles over when bunny after bunny rolls off the rim and points keep refusing to go up on the scoreboard.

“Did you see the type of shots we were getting? We missed 29 shots within 2 feet of the rim,” Lawrence Frank said with a mixture of incredulity and frustration after the 92-77 loss to Dallas was in the books. “The problem is we’ve got to make those shots, then the next thing is we’ve got to get back.”

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