Rest to the Test

Pistons wrap up 4-day break, head for division test at Milwaukee

The Pistons will have had four days with no games when they face the Bucks on the road Friday.
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
The Pistons wrapped up Camp Frank on Thursday – the last of their four straight days off, the longest stretch of a season that saw them set the pace for games played until now. Even at that, only five other NBA teams have played more than the 36 games the Pistons have logged and only San Antonio, which has played 38, by more than one additional game.

But a coach can always find the dark lining of a silver cloud, so of course there is a downside to having four days off between games, right? Worries of rust or getting out of the routine? Fretting about preparing for a team you played recently – but now plays for a different coach? Worrying about putting their rest to the test?

The Pistons took Monday off, then had individual workouts for players on Tuesday followed by an extended practice on Wednesday and one more typical of a regular-season session in duration on Thursday before leaving for Milwaukee and Friday’s game with the Bucks, who fired Scott Skiles earlier in the week and elevated assistant Jim Boylan to replace him.

So … time well spent?

“Ask me tomorrow night,” Frank answered. “You have to have very meaningful practices. It’s really on every individual to be purposeful with it and to maximize practices. There were some good moments and some moments that definitely need to be better.”

Frank used the consecutive practice days to introduce a few new plays, he said, and got to look at different playing groups – though he shot down the notion that there would be any lineup or rotation changes unless performances dictated moves.

Greg Monroe said the days off were beneficial and didn’t expect that there would be much danger of losing the edge the Pistons had honed – Sunday’s loss to Charlotte to snap a four-game winning streak aside – in the weeks leading to the schedule slowdown.

“This is the first time we’ve had multiple days in a row and practices in a long time, so it’s been good to fix some stuff we needed to fix and make sure everybody keeps the rhythm we’ve had,” he said. “It’s a good time to put in some different looks and try different stuff defensively. There are a couple of new things they put in, we went over them both days, and tomorrow we’ll see how they work.

“Guys are still in rhythm – you have to sit out a long time to really get out of rhythm. I think we’ll be fine. We have to continue to come out and play with the energy that we have been playing with and just outworking people – in the games before Charlotte, of course. Continue to do the things we’d been doing before that game and we’ll be fine.”

Monroe said the playoffs remain a possibility for the Pistons – “We definitely can, but we have to outwork people every night – we can’t have any lapses” – and that makes games with Eastern Conference opponents ahead of them in the pecking order especially critical. Milwaukee, at 18-16, currently sits in the No. 7 spot.

One challenge ahead of the Pistons is to be able to maintain their superb second unit play while trying to strike a balance that allows Frank to bring front-line players like Monroe and Tayshaun Prince back in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter without seeing the play of the bench players drop off without the chemistry they’ve built as a unit.

Put another way, if Frank wants Rodney Stuckey or Will Bynum to close games instead of Kyle Singler, or Charlie Villanueva’s shooting instead of Jason Maxiell’s physical presence, can those players still bring what they do best without the comfort zone they’ve established playing as part of a five-man second unit?

“I don’t necessarily see rotation changes, but based on what you see on the court, anything goes,” Frank said. “I do hold the one card in the back that in the flow of the game, you don’t like what you see, then you’re going to do something different. You evaluate every single day. You don’t necessarily need a break to evaluate, but the lineup will start the same way we did against Charlotte.”

Milwaukee’s, though, will be a little different than when the Pistons beat the Bucks on Dec. 30. Boylan has moved Luc Richard Mbah a Moute back to small forward and inserted Ersan Ilyasova into the starting lineup at power forward, backing him with first-round pick John Henson – a player the Pistons likely would have drafted at No. 9 if Andre Drummond hadn’t dropped to them unexpectedly. Marquis Daniels, who started at small forward at The Palace, is pretty much out of the rotation now.

“(Pistons coaches are) preparing basically as they still run all the same stuff,” Monroe said. “There was a little change in the starting lineup, but other than that it’s pretty much the same things they’ve been doing.”