Pandemics, storms … it’s the NBA’s ‘expect the unexpected’ season as Pistons adjust on the fly

Dennis Smith Jr.
Dennis Smith Jr. expected to be making a return to Dallas, his first NBA team, but that got scuttled when Wednesday’s game was postponed due to a winter storm causing power outages in Texas
Ray Del Rio (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Sometime this spring, a swarm of 17-year cicadas will rise from the earth and cast southeast Michigan in a dark cloud and an eerie din. Seems about right. The Pistons lost Tuesday’s game with San Antonio to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Spurs roster and Wednesday’s game at Dallas to a Texas ice storm. Somewhere, there’s a herd of locusts revving the engines.

“The only thing common about this year is the unpredictability and the uncommon,” Dwane Casey said after Tuesday’s practice, which was added Monday when the Pistons learned of the virus-induced postponement of their game with the Spurs. “Spent most of last night watching film on Dallas and then you wake up today and there’s a chance you might go play another game – you don’t know who yet – and there’s a chance you might play Chicago.”

Chicago was scheduled to play at Charlotte on Wednesday but that game, too, was postponed due to contact tracing involving San Antonio, which played at Charlotte on Sunday. The NBA announced late Tuesday afternoon that the Pistons would fly to Chicago, not Dallas, and play the Bulls at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Ten days ago Dennis Smith Jr. was quarantining in advance of the G League’s Orlando bubble as a member of the New York Knicks. Then he got traded to the Pistons and was preparing to return to Dallas – the team that drafted him ninth overall in 2017 – for Tuesday’s game when life threw another curveball at him.

“Just focus on the present,” Smith said of rolling with the punches. “Everything that’s going to happen down the line or that’s already happened, you can’t control it. So just focus on the present. They cancel the game, we find that out, doesn’t change that we practice. It’s still coming in and we get up.”

The NBA only released the first half of the schedule in December on the expectation that there would need to be adjustments made given the likelihood of postponements due to virus cases and contact-tracing protocols. The Pistons were originally scheduled to play 37 of their 72 games between Dec. 23 and March 2. They’ve now had four postponements, though Sunday’s game with New Orleans was added and a Wednesday game at Chicago would mean only an additional two games would need to be added to the 35 the Pistons expected to have in the second half between March 10 and May 16.

Shoehorning 37 games into that 67-day window suggests another heap of back-to-back sets for the Pistons if there is no adjustment to either the March 5-10 break scheduled or an extension of the regular season.

“It’s always evolving,” Casey said just ahead of the NBA making official Wednesday’s last-minute game with the Bulls. “You’ve got to be flexible, be nimble. Our video guys are doing a great job right now in there preparing for Chicago. It’s a switch. We’ve got to be able to adapt.”

Complicating the preparation for Chicago is the fact that the Pistons and Bulls haven’t met yet and, in fact, weren’t scheduled to play at all in the first half. It works both ways, of course. The Bulls might be at an even bigger disadvantage since the Pistons team they’ll host on Wednesday could suit up with only one player, Svi Mykhailiuk, who played for the Pistons last season.

“We’ve got to embrace the change,” Casey said. “That’s the theme for this year. Be able to embrace the change, whatever it might be this year – schedule, playing time, position. Whatever it is, we have to adapt to it.”

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