Kuzma’s career night too much for Pistons as road trip starts with a loss
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Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 113-100 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center
KUZMA GOES KRAZY – Maybe the Pistons would have been better off if LeBron James had played and Kyle Kuzma missed the game. Kuzma, a second-year player from Flint and the University of Utah, matched his career high of 38 points with 2:31 left in the third quarter. He was a one-man wrecking ball, finishing with 41 points, 22 in the third quarter when he hit 7 of 10 shots and 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc. Kuzma didn’t play in the fourth quarter. James missed the game with a groin injury suffered late last month. The Lakers missed their first eight 3-point shots, so even though the Pistons’ shooting hovered around 35 percent for much of the first half they held intermittent leads before an early second-quarter run allowed the Lakers to surge ahead. Then the Lakers made six straight triples before a Lonzo Ball miss midway through the third quarter. The Pistons finished 14 of 44 from the arc, more than half of their 87 shots triples. Blake Griffin’s return to Staples Center – his first game there as a visitor – didn’t go quite as he’d hoped. He finished with 16 points and didn’t grab a rebound in 37 minutes as the Pistons were dominated on the glass, 48-34. Andre Drummond finished with 1boards, but endured his own frustrations by shooting 2 of 12. The Lakers scored 40 points in the paint in the first half and finished with 72.
SHUFFLING THE DECK – After especially bad starts to the second quarters of the past two games, Dwane Casey adjusted his rotation. Instead of starting the quarter with an all-bench unit – or even with Andre Drummond or Blake Griffin staying on to play with four reserves – Casey got all starters but Drummond out in the first quarter, some as early as the midway point. When the second quarter started, he had three starters back on the floor – Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bullock – to go with Jon Leuer and Luke Kennard. But after giving up a 14-0 run to Utah on Saturday and a 15-0 run to San Antonio on Monday, the results weren’t profoundly different. The Lakers opened the second quarter with an 18-5 run to turn a four-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The Pistons never threatened that lead. Casey used Glenn Robinson III in the first half, then went with Langston Galloway in the second. He was briefly rewarded for that move as Galloway drained three 3-point shots in his first two minutes late in the third quarter to whittle their deficit momentarily to nine points. Galloway finished with 15 points, hitting 5 of 6 from the arc in his 14 minutes.
QUARTER POLE – If you divide the season into quarters, you essentially get 20-game segments – 20½, technically – and usually there aren’t wild fluctuations from one quarter segment to the next. But the Pistons were 13-7 after beating Golden State on Dec. 1 and they’ll take a 4-15 record into Thursday’s game at Sacramento to wrap up the second 20-game segment. Two factors help explain the gaping disparity: the schedule got a lot tougher for the Pistons and injuries to Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith, Stanley Johnson and Zaza Pachulia have cut into their depth and thrown Dwane Casey’s rotation out of whack. The Pistons could get a boost with Smith’s return on their four-game road trip. He was upgraded to “doubtful” prior to the Lakers game. Pachulia also accompanied the Pistons on the trip, though it’s unclear how close his return is after suffering a calf injury in the Dec. 30 loss at Orlando.