Not enough help for Grant as Lillard, Blazers win from 3-point line over Pistons
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 124-101 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Little Caesars Arena
SHOOTING SHORTAGE – When Saddiq Bey picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game and was replaced by Hamidou Diallo, it gave the Pistons a perimeter trio of Josh Jackson, Saben Lee and Diallo, all either low-volume or low-percentage 3-point shooters. Wayne Ellington missed the game with a calf injury, robbing the Pistons of their best perimeter shooter, and Bey had a night the rookie – who came into the game just three behind Brandon Knight for most 3-pointers in a season for any Pistons rookie – would like to forget, fouling out after a scoreless night in which he missed all eight of his shots, seven from the 3-point line. The Pistons hit 5 of 7 from the 3-point arc in the first quarter despite missing Ellington’s firepower and finished 9 of 27. Portland – with backcourt stars Damien Lillard (33 points, 10 assists) and C.J. McCollum (24 points) combining for 57 points, 37 in the second half – hit 16 of 30 from three. Jackson and Diallo give the Pistons a pair of hyperathletic, long wing players who are or have the potential to be elite defensively, but Jackson is a 29 percent career 3-point shooter whose seen his early-season improvement fade as he came into the Portland game at 27.4 percent for the season and went scoreless in 19 minutes, missing all five shots and his only 3-point try. Diallo is a career 26.6 percent 3-point shooter though he’s improved to 30.2 percent for the season and has gone 3 of 5 in three games with the Pistons, but he’s an infrequent 3-point shooter, taking only 16 percent of his career shots from the arc. Jerami Grant gave the Pistons most of their scoring punch, finishing with 30, and hit 3 of 5 from the 3-point line. Pistons starters were outscored 93-50 – Lee scored two points with Bey and Jackson drawing blanks, Mason Plumlee providing 18.
BENCH PUNCH – The identity of Dwane Casey’s second unit has changed radically from early in the season, when Derrick Rose was its anchor, and varies from game to game even now. But one thing has remained constant: The bench has consistently provided scoring punch. At 41.8 points a game off the bench, the Pistons have the NBA’s most productive set of reserves. Nothing was different in the loss to Portland. With newly acquired Hamidou Diallo again raising eyebrows, the Pistons got 51 points off of their bench against the Trail Blazers. Diallo was dynamic for the second straight game, following up his 19-point, 10-rebound outing in Monday’s win over Toronto with 19 points (7 of 8 shooting), seven rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes. He’s displayed playmaking chops, too, showing patience and vision with the ball in his hands, and his defense is as advertised. Another newcomer, Cory Joseph, also showed well in his fourth game since being acquired at last week’s trade deadline from Sacramento. In 28 minutes, Joseph racked up 11 points and nine assists. Tyler Cook, playing on his second 10-day contract, contributed seven points and three rebounds in 16 minutes.
MEN IN THE MIDDLE – Dwane Casey said that Jahlil Okafor, who underwent surgery in early February to clean up left knee meniscus damage, is nearing his return. “I think he’s coming back any time now, any day. He practiced (Tuesday). He’s been working. He’s looking good. His weight is down. As good a game condition as you can get. He’s getting very close.” Okafor averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10 minutes a game over his 12 appearances before suffering the knee injury. In his absence, Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart have provided close to 100 percent of minutes at center. Plumlee is averaging 10.8 points and a career-high 9.5 rebounds in 27.5 minutes a game. Stewart, the 19-year-old rookie taken with the 16th pick in the November draft, has posted averages of 6.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 19 minutes per game and has flashed 3-point shooting potential recently, hitting 6 of 12 over the seven games prior to Wednesday and hitting 2 of 4 against Portland. One way to ease Okafor into the mix is to cut back on Plumlee’s workload. Even with a 72-game schedule, 10 fewer than in a typical season, Plumlee is on pace to play about 1,900 minutes this season, a total he’s topped only in the 2015-16 season when he started all 82 games for Portland and the 2016-17 season when he played in 81 games and started 64 split between Portland and Denver.