INDIANAPOLIS – The Pistons will start this season the way they ended the 2018-19 regular season – without Blake Griffin in the lineup.
The difference is they’re better prepared to withstand the absence of their best player – and that’s no accident.
“That’s one of the reasons why went out and got Markieff (Morris), just in case (Griffin) wasn’t available,” Dwane Casey said Wednesday after shootaround at Bakers Life Fieldhouse, where the Pistons play the Pacers in tonight’s opener. “You had to have somebody that could have that type of size, physicality, screening, also spacing the floor, which Markieff can do.”
Morris was listed as questionable on Tuesday with lower-back tightness, but he went through shootaround and Casey said the nine-year veteran will start at power forward. Casey also indicated he’d keep the rest of his normal preseason starting lineup intact, meaning Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Tony Snell and Bruce Brown will round out the starting five. When Griffin was unavailable to start the 2019 playoffs against Milwaukee, Casey swapped Brown out for Luke Kennard to get more scoring in the lineup.
“We’re still going with Bruce,” Casey said. “We’ve still got scorers coming off the bench and Luke is in his role. We like that role, so we’ll stay with that.”
Griffin played the first two preseason games and then sat out the third for what was called a planned rest. He missed the final two preseason games with what the team identified as hamstring soreness. Tuesday’s announcement, which said Griffin will be re-evaluated in the first week of November, said he was experiencing left hamstring soreness and posterior knee soreness. That’s the same leg that idled Griffin last spring.
“We’re being very conservative with him,” Casey said. “We’re used to playing without Blake, so everyone has to be ready. That’s one reason why we went out and signed Markieff. That’s one reason why we kept Christian Wood. Thon’s (Maker) available. We’d rather have Blake, but we’re used to life without him.”
Griffin suffered a knee injury last March 28 when the Pistons beat Orlando to snap a three-game losing streak and lift their record to 38-37 at the height of a playoff race. He missed three games, returned for two, then sat out the final two regular-season and first two playoff games. Griffin, after playing in the final two playoff games, underwent a surgical procedure to repair torn meniscus in his left knee later that week.
Griffin said at the start of training camp that the injury only modestly affected his off-season.
“It was a four- to six-week recovery,” he said. “Back on the court in mid-June, so really only a couple of weeks. Put together the same plan (as the previous summer) – a little less conditioning this summer – but as far as strength I was able to really be in the weight room all summer and accomplish what I wanted there and, on the court, worked on building on the summer before.”
Until missing five of the final seven games, Griffin had played in 73 of the first 75 games, his only absences coming for planned rests in back-to-back sets. He led the Pistons in minutes per game at 35.0 as well as in scoring at 24.5 points. Griffin was named third team All-NBA, the sixth time in his career he earned All-NBA honors but the first since the 2014-15 season.