Pistons hanging on amid bumpy ride, aim to snap 3-game skid vs. Bucks

Anthony Tolliver’s ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays has been a pleasant surprise for the Pistons this season.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

SAN ANTONIO – Before a two-game losing streak became a three-game losing streak, Stan Van Gundy cut to the heart of the Pistons current reality.

“The real issue is the other teams are trying to win, too. That’s the issue. That’s the part everybody always leaves out. ‘Why are you losing?’ Well, some of it is the other team.”

And “the other team” the Pistons are playing lately is almost universally very good. And almost always wearing the home uniform.

When the Pistons shake hands with their next opponent Wednesday night in Milwaukee, it will bring them full circle on a three-week whirlwind. Since visiting Beer City on Nov. 15, the Pistons will have played 11 opponents – nine of them on the road and all but one, Phoenix, an odds-on playoff team when the dust settles.

“The schedule’s always got something to do with it,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not like we’re playing sub-.500 teams at home and losing games. You just can’t get caught up in all of that stuff.”

That wasn’t a preamble to excuse losses but a reminder that the margin for error shrinks against winning teams. The Pistons only put one good half together against both Washington and Philadelphia in the weekend back to back that opened their current four-game road trip, then shot poorly from the 3-point line – 8 of 27 – in Monday’s three-point loss at San Antonio. And rebounding has been subpar in all three games, the Pistons an average of minus-12.3 on the boards.

“We have to make a concerted effort to hit guys when the ball goes up instead of just watching,” Anthony Tolliver said after the Spurs outrebounded the Pistons 51-42. “I feel like we depend on Andre (Drummond) a little bit too much. The last couple of games before this, I felt like we just had a couple of bad bounces. Sometimes you have to go make your luck. For us go get out of this funk of not rebounding well, I think we have to concentrate on it even more and really just hit people and get on the glass.”

Their three-week trek through the toughest stretch of schedule began with two straight losses, but the Pistons won four of the next five – including tough road wins at Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Boston – before their current three-game skid. The locker room was somber after the Spurs loss, but no one was projecting a sense of doom.

“I think we’re still playing well,” said Reggie Jackson, who dropped 27 points on the Spurs. “It (stinks), drop three straight, but I think this team is resilient so we’ll find a way to battle back.”

The home-road imbalance lets up after Wednesday’s game, but the quality of opponent isn’t exactly going to go soft. The Pistons come home to face two opponents, Golden State and Boston, with a cumulative 40-10 record and then host Denver, another team steaming toward the playoffs.

“You’ve just got to go out and play every night and if we play our best, we’re certainly capable of beating anybody,” Van Gundy said. “But, yeah, it’s a tough stretch. We’re going to play 9 of 11 on the road and then we’re going to go home to Golden State, Boston and Denver and then back out on the road again. I never look at any game this way, but if you were an analyst and said, ‘OK, what’s the game they should win?’ – Phoenix – in the entire stretch. Everything else is a tossup at best.

“It’s a hard stretch, but it’s good in some ways. We’re finding out things – things you’ve got to do better – and it forces you to play at a higher level.”

Their current three-game losing streak is the season’s longest and only the second time through the first 23 games that they’d lost consecutive games. They understand the importance of not coming home to face Golden State dragging a four-game losing streak behind them.

“It’s a big importance,” Tobias Harris said. “Obviously, we’re upset. We’re down. But at the same time, we’ve got to be ready to go and be able to bounce back and stay positive with it. We knew this was a tough stretch in our schedule, playing a lot of good teams, so we’ve just got to be ready and be focused for the next one.”

Van Gundy doesn’t spend much time fretting over his team’s psyche, only their execution.

“I don’t think confidence is an issue with us. I think we know we can play and we have what we need to win anywhere, so I don’t think that’s an issue. It’s just we have to get the job done.”