With time to catch their breath, Pistons show they're adjusting to life after Jennings
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
There are big wins and there are good wins. The Pistons put a mark under each heading with Saturday's 114-101 dousing of Houston –a big win because it ended a four-game losing streak and a good win because it came against a team 20 games above .500.
The Pistons had more than their share of good wins during their 12-3 streak following Christmas – road wins at Cleveland, San Antonio, Dallas and Toronto grabbing the NBA's full attention. They were brimming with confidence and had generated enough momentum that a playoff berth seemed more likely than not, unthinkable after a 5-23 start to the season.
Then came the Brandon Jennings injury, a season-ender that not only required a profound emotional regrouping but strategic alterations and a reordering of the rotation – all with zero practice time to get it done. The Jennings Achilles tendon rupture came on the first night of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, the second of January for the Pistons.
They lost all four, which would have been tough wins even with Jennings in the lineup and playing at the All-Star level he'd performed at since the turnaround began with a Dec. 26 win over Indiana. Even the Philadelphia game – because of the timing, the fourth game in five nights against a home team that was off the previous night – always figured to be a grind.
Now the schedule turns, temporarily at least, in their favor. Two days off to prepare for Houston, then two more before their next game and another back-to-back set. (The Pistons and Charlotte, with 22 apiece, play more back to backs than any other NBA team this season. The Pistons still have 10 left, tied for the league lead.) Saturday's win began a stretch of nine home games in an 11-game stretch that ends Feb. 27 and brackets the All-Star break.
One more reason Saturday was both a big win and a good win: If they're going to recover from the four-game losing streak to renew their pursuit of a playoff berth, the Pistons must play considerably better at home down the stretch than they have over the season's first three months. They came into the Houston game 7-16 at home and 10-14 away from The Palace.
"We'll see," Stan Van Gundy said when asked if the home-heavy schedule should benefit the Pistons. "We've played better on the road than at home for most of the year, so I don't know that looking at having a lot of games at home is necessarily a real advantage for us right now. I'd like to think it is. You think it is when you look at it at the beginning of the year, but not the way we've played this year."
There hasn't been an overwhelming home-court feel to The Palace for the past handful of seasons, but the effects of their post-Christmas turnaround are reinvigorating the fan base and energizing the building. When Houston began cutting into a 17-point lead in Saturday's fourth quarter, the crowd's response didn't go unnoticed by the Pistons.
"It was great having people out here tonight," Greg Monroe said of the 18,000-plus in attendance. "It's always fun when The Palace is rockin'. We have to keep it up. Hopefully, they keep coming out to support."
"I thought our crowd was tremendous, especially when they got close at the end," Van Gundy said. "And when we had to call that timeout late, I thought our crowd responded and it helped. I noticed 'em tonight. I really did."
Chances are they'll continue to notice the crowd because with every big win like Saturday's, the fans are noticing the Pistons. They've now had a week to digest the loss of Jennings and – after 17 days in January cut into practice time – they're about to start getting a chance to get in the gym and allow Van Gundy to accommodate the loss with further streamlining of the playbook. The win over Houston gave them affirmation that they can still make the most of the season.
"I think it was important for our guys," Van Gundy said. "They've been working hard. We didn't really get a chance to adjust after Brandon's injury. We didn't get a practice in for three straight games. There's still a long way to go, but it was good for them to get a win, get our spirits back up a little bit and now we've got six (games) heading into the break."
"It was definitely important to get this win," Monroe said. "Especially back at home, against a good team. It was tough to lose somebody who was that important and we were playing some good teams at that, so it was a mixture of things. But it was good to be back home and get a good win against a good team."
"It was a big game for our confidence and just coming out and getting a win," Augustin said. "We needed it. We just want to keep pushing, keep getting better."