Pistons weigh urgency vs. 82-game marathon as season opener approaches

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin missed the last two preseason games with hamstring soreness and Dwane Casey says the Pistons will play it conservatively with their All-Star forward.
Issac Baldizon (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Those who do deep dives into the NBA schedule determined that the Pistons have the easiest set of games before the All-Star break and the most difficult from then until season’s end.

That stark extreme should serve to ramp up the sense of urgency as the Pistons prepare to open Dwane Casey’s second season on Wednesday at Indiana. Better pocket wins while you can.

And yet they’ll need to strike a balance between that sense of urgency and the reality that the 82-game marathon inevitably will produce twists and turns to upend the neat narrative of the pre- and post-break schedule degrees of difficulty. Injuries will alter nearly every team’s outlook. Some teams will beat expectations; others will under perform. What looks like an easy win in October might look like something else altogether in January.

It won’t take long for the Pistons to come to grips with that reality, either. Blake Griffin sat out the last two preseason games with hamstring soreness that remains enough of a factor that he was only a partial participant in Monday’s practice.

Will he play on Wednesday? Given that the Pistons open the season with a back to back – the home opener is with Atlanta on Thursday – will he sit out at Indiana in hopes of being closer to full strength for the Hawks a night later?

“Working through it. Working with our training staff, doing what I can,” Griffin said after Monday’s practice. “Also trying to realize that it’s an 82-game schedule. I think sometimes we get a little overhyped on that first game, so got to be patient, listen to our training staff. I trust them completely, like I always have. We’ll figure it out.”

“It’s day to day,” Casey said. “Trying to get him there. We expect him to (play at Indiana), but we’re going to be conservative.”

Coaches never want to get caught labeling some games as more winnable than others for fear it contradicts their mantra to players to treat every game and opponent with the same degree of preparation and respect.

“Always difficult to balance a sense of urgency from that standpoint,” Casey said. “You want to make sure you’re ready to go and I feel like we are. But to me, there’s no easy games. When you’re starting the season, you want to have that sense of urgency but we don’t look at any team – I don’t care if you finished last last year, everybody’s gotten better. Everybody’s excited about the season. I don’t pay any attention to the ‘easy schedule, light schedule.’ We treat games the same way.”

Griffin spoke to the team, Casey said, about adopting exactly that mindset on Monday. He spoke often last season about the need to avoid playing to the level of competition.

“We dug ourselves a hole early a lot last year and had to fight or battle back,” he said. “We unfortunately had to waste too much energy in that battle just to get back. I think this team has a good enough veteran presence where I don’t expect us to really give up leads like that, especially against teams that we shouldn’t. Hopefully, consistency is more of a thing for us this year.”

The Pistons turned their season around last season once Ish Smith got healthy, their second unit stabilized and Wayne Ellington settled in with the starters past the trade deadline and his subsequent buyout in Phoenix. Griffin lauded their togetherness and chemistry after the season, saying young players should appreciate that not every team develops that sense of unity.

You never know how newly formed teams will respond to adversity until it presents itself, but Griffin likes the makeup of a team with newly added veterans Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, Markieff Morris and Tim Frazier – on paper, a deeper and more versatile team than last season’s, which went 41-41 and qualified for the playoffs.

“I think we’ve got a lot of competitors on this team, but things like that you really find out who you are through the course of battle,” he said. “Through the ups and downs and adversity. That’s when you really find out who you are as a team and when you really come together as a team. I love this team and I love our competitive spirit. We have great guys on the team. But until you’ve been battle tested, you don’t really know what you’re made of.”

Who’ll make up the back end of the roster remained in doubt as the 5 p.m. deadline to pare its total to 15 approached. Christian Wood had an impressive preseason, but he’s on a non-guaranteed deal. Joe Johnson, the 17-year veteran ticketed for the Hall of Fame, came to camp on a partially guaranteed deal and is dealing with Achilles tendon soreness, the team announced on Monday.

The Pistons are taking the decision to the deadline to keep all of their options open, including the possibility that a trade could clear a roster spot to enable keeping both Wood and Johnson.

“We’ll know by 5 o’clock,” Casey said. “We will get together, talking about it and go from there, like I’ve done the last 30 years.”

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