ORLANDO – Brook Lopez’s step-back jump shot to beat the Pistons at the buzzer did more than cost the Pistons a critical game amid a playoff race. It appears to have cost them their spirit, as well.
The Pistons come home winless on a three-game road trip that they’d looked at as their chance to establish their playoff bona fides. Friday’s demoralizing 115-87 loss to another lottery-bound team, Orlando, puts the Pistons’ postseason chances on life support.
“No disrespect to the teams, (but) we played against bottom-half-of-the-league teams and to be fighting for the position we’re fighting for, we haven’t really put the effort, the focus – nothing,” Marcus Morris said.
The Pistons have no explanations for their sudden malaise. Less than two weeks after they’d pulled themselves to .500 by winning 12 of 18 games, the Pistons have since gone 1-6. If there was any silver lining, it was Chicago losing at home to Philladelphia to keep the Bulls tied with them, though both slipped another half-game behind idle Miami for the final playoff berth.
“Energy’s off. We don’t really have no pop to us,” Tobias Harris said. “We get on the floor, we’re not really embracing each other out there. The energy is not what it needs to be.”
Whether miserable shooting performances are the product of low energy or if persistent misfiring results in lethargy, it’s clear that the Pistons rise and fall as their shooting percentages do. Over 13 March games, the Pistons have shot .377 from the 3-point line in their five wins but an impossibly shoddy .205 in their eight losses. They bottomed out at 2 of 22 from the 3-point arc against Orlando, which hadn’t led by 30 points in any game this season before getting there late in the third quarter against the Pistons.
“Would it help if we’d make some more shots? Yeah,” said Harris, who hit one of the team’s two triples and finished as the only starter in double figures with 11 points. “But to be honest, we don’t get enough stops on the defensive end. We have to figure it out. Anytime something like this happens, I feel like, collectively, we have to look within and as an individual look at yourself and self-evaluate and go from there and bring that energy.”
The Pistons trailed by just four points, 22-18, after one quarter, but then allowed 35 points in each of the second and third quarters to the league’s 29th ranked offense.
“Sometimes that’s happened to us where our offense dictates our defense,” said Jon Leuer, whose 16 points off the bench led the Pistons. “We have to understand that offensively, there are going to be nights where it doesn’t go in the basket and our defense has to carry us. Tonight, we played well the first quarter defensively but after that we just didn’t have the defensive intensity that you need to win a game.”
Stan Van Gundy’s postgame press conference lasted less than a minute. He didn’t have any more to say to his team. Asked what his postgame message to them was, he said, “I didn’t have one.”
“He said enough at halftime,” Harris said. “He just told us after last game, if we don’t get it together we’re going to get embarrassed. We’ve just got to figure it out and we’ve got to bring it. That’s what the message was. He told us that after the Brooklyn game and we didn’t bring it this game, so it’s disappointing. Just as we are disappointed.”
Since losing to Brooklyn at the buzzer, the Pistons have been outscored by 50 points by two teams with losing records, Chicago and Orlando. With nine games remaining, their margin for error has shrunk to almost nothing.
“I don’t think anything needs to be said at this point,” Leuer said. “We’ve said everything. We know what we need to do; it’s just a matter of us as players going out there and competing our (backsides) off and bringing it – desperate. At this point, we’re fighting for our lives and we have to compete harder. We have to.”