Schedule turns to Pistons favor – now will their injury list follow suit?

Stanley Johnson’s hip flexor has caused him to miss eight of the past nine games and there’s no certainty when he’ll be fully healthy.
Layne Murdoch (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – When the NBA schedule came out last summer, Jeff Bower was struck by the imbalance in the home-road division: 9 of 11 on the road from mid-November to early December; another stretch of 9 of 11 on the road in early March; and then what the Pistons are about to embark upon, 10 of 11 at home.

“He didn’t like the extremes in our schedule,” Stan Van Gundy said after Thursday’s practice of his general manager’s reaction. “He was looking at this stretch and he said, that’s all well and good, but if you have an injury there, now you’re screwed. So … yeah.”

Yeah. And at this point, Van Gundy would gladly take “an” injury. He’s dealing with multiple injuries. And the nature of those injuries compounds the challenge and the frustration.

The symptoms of Stanley Johnson’s strained hip flexor disappear for a few days, he jumps back into practice without issues and then it’s Groundhog’s Day the next morning. He’s missed eight of the past nine games.

Avery Bradley missed seven games over the last half of December with a groin strain and came back saying he felt no more twinges. Six games later, it was back. He played through it Wednesday at Toronto but traveled to Philadelphia with trainer Jon Ishop to see a specialist and take an injection to treat the injury.

Luke Kennard missed the 96-91 loss at Toronto with a left thumb injury that makes it painful to shoot or handle the basketball.

Then there’s the sprained ankle division of the injury list, under which falls Jon Leuer, out since the end of October, and Reggie Jackson, likely to miss at least another month.

Injuries always are a case-by-case issue, but more often than not you can attach a fairly reliable timetable for return. The Pistons thought Leuer would be back by mid-November, but a bone fragment lodged in the ligament has persisted and gives no indication when it will relent. The persistence of Johnson’s injury is mystifying. The hope is Bradley’s doesn’t careen down the same path. And it’s too soon to gauge Jackson’s recovery from a grade 3 ankle sprain suffered 23 days ago.

“The day-to-day stuff is, in some ways, a little harder to deal with,” Van Gundy said. “You do your work last night and today on trying to get ready (for Friday’s game with Washington). We’re talking about matchups. How do you talk about matchups? You don’t know who’s playing.”

Van Gundy said it was 50-50 on all three of Bradley, Johnson and Kennard for Friday. The loss of Jackson forced one major set of adjustments for virtually everyone. Now there’s a second wave of adjustments, with ripple effects all their own, as players who’d already taken on new roles and broader responsibilities adjust again.

The toll is apparent on the Pistons offense. A top-10 unit through the end of November, the Pistons have only infrequently approached that level since. They lost at Toronto despite surrendering just 96 points to the NBA’s No. 4 offense. Other than Andre Drummond, their starters made 14 of 48 shots.

“You’ve got to put pressure on the basket to create anything else, but the guys that we’re relying on to attack the basket are not guys who’ve had to make those plays throughout their career,” Van Gundy said. “They’ve been the recipients of the guys who get down in there. Reggie Jackson’s used to going into the paint and making plays. Some of our wing guys who we’re now having to rely on, that’s not really what they’re used to.”

But there’s no tapping the brakes on the NBA schedule or rearranging the home-road dates to allow the Pistons to get healthy so they’d be in position to take full advantage of their home games and pile up wins in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race.

“We’ve got a game tomorrow. Let’s try to beat Washington and then we’ll move on to Brooklyn,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve got to – as much as you can – stay locked in to the present. You’ve got to do the things it takes to win. I don’t think you can look and say you should win this and this one’s going to be tough. They’re all going to be tough and there’s certainly nobody you can look at and say they should win this one. No – we can win all of ’em.”