Second Half

Pistons hope to open 2nd half of season at Milwaukee the way they left it

Josh Smith
The Pistons kick off the second half of their season Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
The Pistons head to Milwaukee amid questions about the compatibility and balance of their starting frontcourt, which counts as ironic because the last time they were in Milwaukee they appeared close to putting that issue to bed.

Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond combined for 59 points and 42 rebounds when the Pistons coasted to a 105-98 win in early December. Smith had 19 shots, Monroe 15 and Drummond 13. Monroe and Smith both picked up three assists. The frontcourt combined for eight blocked shots.

It was a thoroughly dominant performance, and even if came at the expense of the lottery-bound Bucks, it also came 24 hours after a win at Miami and a flight diverted to Chicago by fog and a bus ride that delivered the Pistons to their Milwaukee hotel about 12 hours before the same bus would bring them to the Bradley Center for that night’s tipoff.

But the freshest memory in their minds today is of Monday’s 112-103 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in which Monroe got just three shot attempts and finished with six points and three rebounds in 30 minutes. Smith shot 22 times, making 12, while Drummond made 5 of 6.

And though the Pistons have won three of their past five games, they’ve also lost nine of their last 12 and realize the season will slip away from them unless they start inching closer to establishing a home-court presence and a reliable identity that almost has to involve Monroe more substantially than it has over the past week. Monroe’s had only four single-digit scoring games all season, but two have come in his past three games.

Mo Cheeks’ frame of reference on this one is pretty clear. He ran the point for a Philadelphia team loaded with scoring options, headlined by Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Moses Malone but also featuring high-scoring guard Andrew Toney.

In so many words, it’s clear Cheeks believes there is a natural order to the game that allows the ball to find scorers.

“A big guy can get hit shot any time. All he’s got to do is tell the point guard, especially if he’s playing well and the ball’s going or he hasn’t had a shot,” he said. “He doesn’t even have to tell me. All he’s got to do is tell the point guard, ‘Run a play for me.’ That’s easy. I learned from some of the best guys if they weren’t touching the ball – of course, I was going to give ’em the ball because they were pretty good scorers – but if you’re not touching the ball, all you’ve got to do is say, ‘Look, bring the ball to me,’ and if he scores, I’m sure the ball will go right back to him.”

Cheeks said he might have a word with point guard Brandon Jennings – who suffered along with Monroe through a miserable afternoon, scoreless for only the second time in his career, missing all seven of his shots – about making a concerted effort to get Monroe scoring chances.

“I can do that,” he said.

But it’s clear he’d rather the suggestion come from another source: Monroe. And he’s already had that conversation with him.

The Pistons have hit the mid-point of their season at seven games under .500 despite a 10-10 road record. Consistency has dodged them. Their defense has betrayed them too often, with too much penetration leading to breakdowns in rotations that allow both layups and open 3-point shots.

On balance, the compatibility of their frontcourt isn’t a problem the magnitude of their defensive issues. But given the connectivity of offense to defense, a more efficient, more consistent, more balanced offense can’t help but benefit the Pistons at the other end. And that’s their focus as they head back to Milwaukee in an attempt to get the second half of the season off on the right path.

“We’ve got to communicate more,” Drummond said after Tuesday’s practice. “Communicate better on the court and don’t be afraid to state your opinion to somebody on the court to help each other out.

“It doesn’t matter who scores or who leads us in points, rebounds, steals, blockings, nothing like that. All that matters is who wins the game. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re not worried about what stats anybody gets.”