Lame performance vs. Bulls makes three straight flops for Pistons

Stan Van Gundy promises different lineup for Wednesday's game vs. Grizzlies

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

CHICAGO — Take your pick, as far as the sound of a frustrated team hitting rock bottom: Andre Drummond’s exhale and sigh when asked about the Detroit Pistons’ sudden death spiral and, specifically, their shamefully lame performance against the Chicago Bulls Monday night at United Center.

Or coach Stan Van Gundy going trombone sound, a la Charlie Brown’s school teacher, on his team after the game.

“Oh team meeting, my a–,” Van Gundy said minutes after Chicago’s 113-82 laugher over their Central Division rivals. Detroit’s players had circled their wagons after a 25-point home loss to Indiana Saturday, which came 24 hours after a 14-point flop at Washington.

Now the swoon had reached three and, well, Van Gundy was no more impressed with whatever yammering went on than he had been beforehand.

“Like I said before, that stuff means nothin’. It’s what you do on the court. Talkin’s easy,” he said.

“Look, I have nothing to say. It was a disgusting performance. By all of us, me included. It was unprofessional, embarrassing, humiliating, whatever you want to say. It’s terrible.”

What was stuck in Van Gundy’s craw was the fact that Detroit ranked second defensively when it tipped off at Washington Friday night – and since then, has been outscored 340-280. The Wizards and the Pacers shot a combined 52.5 percent (40.9 percent on 3-pointers), and then the Pistons let the Bulls get almost anything they wanted at clips of 59.8 percent and 50.0 (8 of 16).

“Looks to me like a lack of effort and a lack of heart, that’s what it looks like to me,” Van Gundy said. “And if you don’t play hard, you’re not going to have any confidence. We looked like we were hoping the game would be easy tonight. And it wasn’t, and we just caved.”

Van Gundy said he’s convinced the team hasn’t heard his latest messages to them. And he promised a different look when, in their next game, the Pistons face Memphis at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

“Well, it’s just a matter of ‘Who now?’ he said. “I guarantee you on Wednesday night we’re not trotting that five out there.”

Ominous as that sounds, the Pistons are 14-16, not scraping along with single-digit victories. Until soiling the court against Indiana Saturday, they had held their first 12 home opponents under 100 points.

The starters that Van Gundy now almost certainly has to mix up was Detroit’s core down the stretch last season. That group carried them, over the final two months of 2015-16, to a 17-9 finish to snag the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. Then they gave the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers a harder time in the first round than their 4-1 exit suggests.

“Look, I have nothing to say. It was a disgusting performance. By all of us, me included. It was unprofessional, embarrassing, humiliating, whatever you want to say. It’s terrible.”

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, after Monday’s loss

The Pistons rank near the NBA’s bottom in 3-point attempts and makes, but unlike Chicago, they don’t make up for it by getting to the foul line and sinking free throws. Their top claim to fame so far this season is leading the league in 2-pointers taken and made – which is like leading MLB in bunting during the steroids era.

One notable lineup change already has been the return of point guard Reggie Jackson, back after extended knee rehab. The Pistons are 3-6 since Jackson took over for backup Ish Smith, and his distribution of the basketball apparently was one of the topics of Saturday’s team meeting.

Jackson, who led the team with 18.8 points per game last season, had launched 106 shots in his first eight games back, with a cringe-worthy 38.7 percent accuracy. Smith had taken almost three fewer shots per game while starting in Jackson’s spot, hitting 43.1 percent. The well-traveled journeyman’s offensive and defensive ratings (102/105) were better than Jackson’s (99/107) heading into Monday’s game, too.

Jackson played a pretty self-conscious game against the Bulls, taking just five shots with three assists and two turnovers in 24 minutes. Wonder why? His play had come up in the locker room chat amongst the fellas.

“It’s not acceptable the way we’re playing right now. Taking 30-point losses night after night. That is not the team that I know that we are. It’s tough, man. Tough to be a part of, tough to play the game, tough to watch. “

Pistons center Andre Drummond

“Mmm, honestly that’s why I tried to move the ball,” Jackson said. “We had a meeting and hopefully ball movement was the topic. … I just tried to help with ball movement.”

It didn’t.

Now the Pistons are on the verge of pulling apart further, which was why Drummond was in such a pensive mood after the loss. The big man finished with nine points and four rebounds in barely 23 minutes.

“It’s not acceptable the way we’re playing right now,” Drummond said after his sigh. “Taking 30-point losses night after night. That is not the team that I know that we are.

“It’s tough, man. Tough to be a part of, tough to play the game, tough to watch.

“We’re not focused. We’re allowing missed shots offensively or whatever it may be personally that’s going on with some of the guys affecting us defensively. I can’t speak for everybody else but I know for me, I try to play hard. And I can’t be everywhere on the floor at once.”

The next bus you see, check underneath it for some Pistons unis.

Drummond continued: “Collectively as a group, we’re not in sync right now. That’s apparent. Everybody sees it. We’ve just got to figure out how to shake it. And find one common ground for what really matters for our season. Is it an individual season or is it a team season? We’ve got to figure that out and the sooner we figure that out the better.”

Asked about Van Gundy’s vow to change the lineup, Drummond did not protest.

“It’s [lousy] to say that, maybe we do need a lineup change,” he said. “But what other option do we have at this point? We’re not trading nobody. We want everybody here. So we’re not looking for nobody else. But maybe we need to mix some things up and try to find something different. Shorten guys minutes or put them out there earlier.”

Keep in mind, the Bulls a few hours earlier had been precisely where the Pistons are now. Coming off three miserable, soul-rattling defeats in need of something big to stop the bleeding. Chicago got that. Detroit needs that.

“I’m flabbergasted with the stuff that’s going on, to be honest,” Drummond said.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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