Pistons get back to .500 as Harris leads 20-point win over Knicks

AUBURN HILLS – It didn’t require a Marcus Morris timeout tirade this time. He said all he needed to with the box score, particularly the line for Carmelo Anthony: 13 points, nine shots.

“Never seen that in my life, even when I wasn’t playing against him,” he said. “He’s a great player. Not taking anything away from him. He was passive, trying to get his teammates involved.”

When the Pistons get more points from Morris and Tobias Harris in their matchups with Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis than the Knicks get, then the Pistons are going to like their chances every time. The count was 35-31 in the Pistons’ favor in their 112-92 win over New York.

Harris, back in the starting lineup, took care of the offense. He scored a season-high 28 points, 23 of them in the first half as the Pistons built an early 18-point lead that was threatened – the Knicks crept within three points late in the third quarter – but never overcome.

But he also played a great all-around game, holding the 7-foot-3 Porzingis to 18 points on 16 shots and registering seven rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots while Morris had Anthony shackled on the other side.

“We played good defense,” Morris shrugged, back in character after the first-quarter outburst that spurred the Pistons after ceding a 15-point lead to Cleveland in what became a rousing win. “They missed shots. Great players. It gets like that some nights.”

Morris didn’t score much himself – seven points – but the Pistons got plenty of offense in running up a 66-point first half. Harris was magnificent, attacking Porzingis off the dribble and making him pay from the 3-point line (3 of 8) when he laid back. Reggie Jackson continued his resurgent play, finishing with 19 points and eight assists and attacking the rim like the Jackson of last season. And that helped Andre Drummond clean up with 24 points and 15 rebounds, five on the offensive end.

“He’s really starting to find himself,” Drummond said of Jackson. “Defensively, he’s where he needs to be. He’s making the effort offensively to get everybody involved and also be able to get his shots off, too. He just looks like a different player out there. It’s fun to play with him.”

The Pistons forced 18 Knicks turnovers and continued their recent trend of taking immaculate care of the ball with seven. With just 52 turnovers in their past seven games, the Pistons have moved to No. 1 in the NBA in fewest turnovers per game.

But their activity on defense is more the revelation. They’ve now forced 14 or more in five of the last eight games. The 18 New York turnovers were converted into 26 points.

“We’re getting much more active with our hands, putting much more pressure on the ball and that’s really helping us,” Stan Van Gundy said. “Those turnovers lead us into points and we’re a team that has trouble scoring at times, so to be able to get out in transition is good for us.”

That’s one of several positive trend lines for the Pistons, who have now won 12 of their past 18 games to pull even at .500 for the first time in nearly two months. With 16 games to go, they control their playoff destiny.

“It’s great,” Morris said about squaring their record at 33-33. “We’re at .500. Now we want to continue to improve, continue to go forward, not take any steps back.”

“It means a lot,” Harris said. “It’s something that we’ve flirted with for some time. Now it’s the time for us to keep it moving and push forward and really make this final push.”

The immediate schedule will make it difficult for the Pistons to stay on the right side of .500. Up next is another back to back – they still have five remaining – starting Tuesday at Cleveland and winding up with Utah at The Palace.

But they’ve got Jackson playing well, Drummond playing with consistently high energy and contributions coming up and down the roster.

“Now it’s time to climb,” Ish Smith said. “We kept climbing, trying to get to that .500 mark. Now we’re here and now it’s time to push on.”

“We’ve got 16 games left and we’re trying to make a playoff push,” Morris said. “These fans deserve to see us in the playoffs at The Palace one more time and we’re trying to give them that.”