Casey intent on keeping Griffin fresh – for fourth quarters and the rest of Pistons season

AUBURN HILLS – It wasn’t just because Washington played two big men most of the time that Dwane Casey tweaked his rotation to include both Zaza Pachulia and Jon Leuer with the second unit in Wednesday’s win over the Wizards.

It also – primarily, in fact – had to do with more vigilantly monitoring Blake Griffin’s workload.

Griffin played 34 minutes in the 106-95 win, nearly 19 in the second half and a little more than 15 in the first. That’s a pattern Casey would like to continue.

“We wanted to look at that and it may be something we look at going forward to rest Blake more and to keep his minutes down,” Casey said. “There’s a number we want to keep his minutes down to in the first half in case it’s a close game. In the second half, all bets are off.”

Griffin is sixth in the NBA in minutes per game at 35.9, one minute behind the leader, Anthony Davis. Of the top six, Griffin, who’ll turn 30 in March, is the oldest player by about five months over James Harden. More than age, though, is Griffin’s injury history over the past four seasons in which he’s played in 221 of a possible 328 regular-season games. Griffin’s current 35.9 minutes is the third-highest of his nine-year career with the top two coming in his first two seasons.

Griffin has played 31 of the 32 Pistons games this season, sitting out only their Dec. 10 loss at Philadelphia. There was no injury – Casey, in consultation with the medical and training staffs, decided to rest him – and the Pistons would like to keep it that way. Other games off could be coming, though Casey was coy when asked about the blueprint.

“There’s a plan,” he said. “I don’t care to clue you in – I’m sorry – but there is a plan.”

Beyond the big picture with Griffin’s health, Casey wants to preserve Griffin for second halves by letting Leuer play more in the first half.

“The key is the first half, making sure we keep (Griffin’s minutes) at a certain level,” Casey said. “That’s what I’ve done with most high-minutes players or high-usage players in the past. It’s never failed. If you get them up above a certain number in the first half, it tells in that third and fourth quarter.”

Griffin came into training camp in terrific shape and a great frame of mind after what he felt was his first truly productive summer in several off-seasons. Rather than rehabilitating injuries, he got to work in May on fine tuning his body and his game. He hired players in addition to trainers so he could approximate game conditions for situations he felt needed honing.

“The past couple of years were tough,” he said after scoring 23 points in the win over Washington. “In the summer I was rehabbing to get healthy to play, to make it in time for the season to start, and this summer I was able to work on my body and build endurance and all that. I think that’s what I’m feeling now – none of the fatigue early in the season. So just trying to keep it that way.”

It’s not just the minutes load that has Casey steering cautiously. It’s the demands put on Griffin to suit the Pistons’ needs. He’s averaging a career-high 25.2 points and taking 18.1 shots a game, above his career norm of 16.3, yet shooting 46.9 percent despite taking far more 3-point shots – 6.4 a game or 35 percent of his total shots – than ever before.

“Believe me, people don’t realize how hard (it is) to do what he’s done for us,” Casey said. “Break the press, quasi-point guard in certain situations. And when you back down – I don’t care if it’s point guard, four man, whatever – that is work.”

Casey is of the belief that as the NBA has become a 3-point dominant game and the league has focused on freedom-of-movement issues for the perimeter players – and as post play has become greatly diminished as a result – that officials have become less accustomed and thus less consistent with officiating post defense.

“We’ve really got to look at officiating that move,” he said. “Back when (Charles) Barkley and those guys were playing, there was an emphasis then on ram-rodding guys in the back. To me, that’s not freedom of movement. The league is doing an excellent job guarding the perimeter. We have a pretty game, but post play is kind of a forgotten area and we’re one of the few teams in the league that posts up a lot. That’s something we’ve got really talk about next summer.”

In the meantime, Casey will do what he can to preserve Griffin – for fourth quarters and for the rest of the season.