You’re tempted to say Brandon Jennings is chomping at the bit to make his Pistons debut, but two days removed from having his jaw unwired he’s not yet chomping on much.
“It’s just a process,” he said following Saturday’s Pistons practice the morning after their overtime loss at Memphis that left them both emotionally gutted and encouraged for their future. “When you have a broken jaw, you can’t just come back and start chewing everything. I’m still eating soft food right now.”
What he’s seen from his teammates over their first two games is something Jennings would love to sink his teeth into. And he hopes to start doing so as soon as Sunday night’s game against Boston, when the Pistons will break out their new Motor City alternate uniforms. Whether he’ll play will be a game-time decision, he said.
“Last night was a good opportunity for us to see where we are to see if we can compete with a team that was in the Western Conference finals (last season),” Jennings said. “And it showed that we can. Yesterday, I took a lot of confidence off of that, to know we’re going to be pretty good this year.”
Maurice Cheeks is coming to the same realization.
“I’m learning something every day about ’em,” he said. “Being in Memphis, being on the road, opening day crowd – a lot of factors you’d think would be playing against you and we just hung in there the whole time. We had a chance to win the game. To know we have that ability to go in there with those circumstances and have a chance to win is very encouraging.”
Cheeks knows that whatever step forward the Pistons have taken in their first two games could be negated by losing at home to Boston, which comes to The Palace without any of the names that made the Celtics an Eastern Conference contender for the past five years. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have all moved on and Rajon Rondo is still recovering from last year’s ACL tear. He doesn’t expect a letdown after Friday’s emotionally draining game.
“We’re trying to get someplace and our mind-set is that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” he said. “We have to try to play a consistent style of basketball and for the first two games we’ve played that type of basketball. I don’t think it’s about the no-name guys on Boston’s team. We’re just trying to get to a place where we play consistent basketball. I don’t think we’ll have a letdown because we’re trying to get to that area.”
Cheeks said he’s unsure how he’d use Jennings against the Celtics if he’s cleared to play, but it’s unlikely he’d start him. Rodney Stuckey – who, like Jennings, played only in the preseason opener on Oct. 8 before becoming unavailable to injury the following day – returned in Friday’s loss at Memphis and came off the bench to play 23 minutes. Cheeks said he was also unsure whether Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum would be Sunday’s backcourt starters.
Whenever Jennings, who lost a relatively modest 6 pounds while his jaw was immobilized, returns he will have to wear a protective mask for an undetermined period.
“It’s very uncomfortable,” he said. “I’m not used to having injuries, so I really don’t know how to play with having something on, especially my face. It doesn’t affect my vision, it’s once I get sweaty it moves around a little bit so I’m always having to fix it up a little bit. Just something I have to get used to.”
Whatever time it will require of him to sync up with his teammates – and particularly in the nuances of the pick and roll, which is a staple of his game and figures to be a critical component of his success with the Pistons – Jennings believes he has an idea of how things will work going in based on his observations from the bench.
“Myself and the big, we need to know each other, how we play,” he said. “And it’s also big to have a shooter in the pick and roll. It’s not always the guy who’s in the pick and roll, it’s the guy who’s replacing the roll guy. It’s important to have all those options.
“I think we have a dominant frontcourt, so it’s going to be important that we get those guys the ball, especially Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. Drummond, we really don’t run plays for him, but he finds a way to always get the ball and score points for us. I definitely have been paying attention. This year, my goal is to live in the paint. That way, I can make things happen for everybody.”
And maybe as soon as Sunday.