Trip-ped Up

Lost weekend for Pistons as they follow Orlando loss with one at Washington


The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – Washington closed the first half on a 14-0 run to turn a game that always seemed in danger of slipping away from the Pistons into one that did so very quickly. Washington led by 21 at halftime on its way to a 106-82 win over the Pistons, who fell to 14-18 with their second straight loss and fourth in their last five games. The Pistons had gone 7-1 over their last eight on the road before losing Friday at Orlando and Saturday at Washington. John Wall led Washington’s win with 20 points and 11 assists. The Wizards hit seven of their first 10 3-point tries. Greg Monroe scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Pistons, limited to 23 minutes as Cheeks pulled his starters early with the game out of reach.

BLUE COLLAR – The Wizards thought Bradley Beal might be lost for the season when he took a frightening tumble in Friday night’s loss at Minnesota. But X-rays proved negative and Beal, diagnosed with a bruised knee, was back in the starting lineup 24 hours later. He triggered the closing run that blew the game open late in the second quarter, scoring first on a layup and then hitting jump shots on three straight possessions – two from the 3-point line – that turned a nine-point Pistons deficit into a 19-point hole. Beal finished with 15 points in 20 minutes.

RED FLAG – With rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope struggling and Rodney Stuckey again limited to a brief run (six minutes) due to a recurrence of his right shoulder injury, the Pistons were left shorthanded in the backcourt. Caldwell-Pope, along with Josh Smith, was held out of the second-half starting lineup after an ineffective first half. Caldwell-Pope didn’t score in Friday night’s loss in 24 minutes nor in seven first-half minutes Saturday, not recording an assist or rebound over those 31 minutes, either. He finished Saturday with two points, no rebounds and no assists in 16 minutes.

WASHINGTON – With a little over four minutes to go in the third quarter, Brandon Jennings took a shot to the face, leaving a trail of blood behind him as he made his way to the bench. There couldn’t have been a more apt metaphor for the lost weekend the Pistons endured in losing twice, one more disheartening than the other.

The Pistons, in line with the experience of many young teams, have had great difficulty repeating performances this season. On Saturday, they repeated one they’d rather they hadn’t, closely following the script from Friday’s lopsided loss at Orlando in losing at Washington 106-82.

“We are going through a rough patch,” Kyle Singler said. “Whatever that is, with time it’ll work itself out. But we have to start playing better basketball.”

The Pistons trailed by 23 points when Jennings went to the bench with a bloody nose. He was able to return in the fourth quarter, about the only bit of good news the Pistons received during a night when injury – Rodney Stuckey’s recurring shoulder problem limited him to six minutes – was heaped atop insult.

Cheeks disapproved of what he saw in the first half, which ended with a 14-0 Washington run and a 21-point Pistons deficit, enough that he made two lineup changes to start the second half. Singler and Will Bynum were in, Josh Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out. Smith didn’t play at all in the second half. Caldwell-Pope came back in the fourth quarter with the game well out of hand.

It sounded like if Cheeks could have made even more drastic changes, he would have.

“I could have, the way the first half ended,” he shrugged. “But I really couldn’t.

“I just felt I wanted to make a change and stay with the guys I went with. It wasn’t just (Smith). KCP didn’t start, either. I felt like staying with the guys I had out on the floor, that’s all. It wasn’t just those two. But they had bigs out there on the floor, so I had to keep some bigs out there. So I stayed with Andre (Drummond) and Greg (Monroe).”

"We have to get back to what we were doing before the break, and get back to playing at a high level."

- Greg Monroe on the Pistons' performance
Full game quotes
The momentum the Pistons seemed to gather with big recent road wins at Indiana and Boston amid the discovery of Smith as a primary post option seemed to evaporate in their weekend trip to Orlando and Washington.

Smith scored just four points, making 2 of 7 shots, in 18 first-half minutes in which he managed four rebounds, but just one assist and no steals or blocked shots, well off the stat-stuffing performances that have marked his career.

“I come out and play the game hard each and every day,” Smith said. “All my career, I’ve been known as a versatile player. If my shot is not going in that night, there are other intangibles that I apply to the game that make me effective and a basketball game is not always predicated on who’s making the shots. There’s more to it than that.”

Smith didn’t think teams have begun to play him any differently than they had during the six-game run where he averaged 24 points a game before this weekend.

“They’ve been doing the same thing they’ve been doing when I was rolling,” he said. “They were trapping me, I was able to find people, my teammates that were on the perimeter, and people were making plays. It’s not a mystery on what made us successful and kept us in ballgames. We just can’t get stagnant and get away from it.”

“We didn’t get in any offensive flow,” Cheeks said. “It wasn’t that we just didn’t get it to Josh. And then we got down like we did. We couldn’t just come down and drop the ball inside, so we just tried different things.”

But nothing really worked. The Pistons mounted nothing resembling a challenge to Washington after halftime, twice cutting their 21-point deficit to 19 before seeing it go in the other direction. They trailed by 28 late in the third quarter and never got closer than 21 in the fourth.

They’d suffered some disappointing losses and logged a few flat performances over the season’s first 30 games, but they’d almost always responded with wins or spirited efforts. The back-to-back lethargic games left the locker room a little bit dazed and confused. Their offense has had nothing to hang its hat on two nights running and the defense has allowed two straight opponents to stay above 50 percent from start to finish.

“I don’t think you can really focus on one thing,” Singler said. “It’s definitely a combination of things. Just collectively, I don’t think we’re there yet. Whether it’s the time off we had during the Christmas break, we obviously have lost our rhythm. With time, we’ll get it back. We haven’t been playing well enough to get to where we want to get to.”

“That’s the NBA,” Cheeks said. “You have some highs, you have some lows. We lost a tough game against Portland, a very, very low point, and we come back and win the game against Indiana, which is a high. That’s the way our season has been going so far. … We’ve just got to regroup and start over.”

It was a weekend where they would have loved to have had a high and a low to debate. Now they have to dig in at home – against the same Washington team – on Monday to close out 2013 with the sort of high that will help balance their lost weekend on the road.