‘We’re not taking anything for granted’ – Pistons grind through rugged stretch with positive results
Gregory Shamus (NBAE/Getty)
AUBURN HILLS – It began ominously. The roughest stretch of schedule the Pistons will face all season started with tough losses at Milwaukee and Indiana. Ahead of them was a 12-game segment where they’d suit up at Little Caesars Arena just five times and face three of the league’s legitimate title contenders – Cleveland, Golden State and Boston – in three of them.
Thirteen of those 14 games – starting with Milwaukee and ending with Denver – come against teams either certain or likely to be in the playoff field.
So that comeback from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to win at Minnesota on Nov. 19 carried a little more weight than the average November road win. Since then, the Pistons have lost once – to Cleveland, the next night, against a well-rested, hot-shooting and suddenly reinvigorated Cavs team – while stringing together two more impressive road wins at Oklahoma City and Boston before pummeling Phoenix at home.
That’s the springboard for a four-game road trip over the next six nights against all winning teams with a cumulative 48-35 record heading into tonight’s games.
The Pistons have built their 14-6 record – which includes a 6-4 road mark featuring wins over Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers in addition to the Thunder and Celtics – on the strength of a rapidly improving offense, solid defense and a deep bench. As you might expect, they were in a buoyant frame of mind as they packed to hit the road.
“Mentally, we’re in a good space, but every day we have to come to work. We have to be ready,” Tobias Harris said. “We can’t let up. We have to respect every opponent and then go out there and handle our business.”
That reflects a maturity Stan Van Gundy acknowledged when the Pistons didn’t play down to an overmatched Suns team on Wednesday, 48 hours after the emotional win at Boston. As the only apparent breather in the 27-day stretch that began with their Nov. 15 visit to Milwaukee, it was almost expected that the Pistons would struggle to win a low-energy outing against the Suns.
Van Gundy remains vigilant, encouraged by the results his motion-heavy offense have produced but mindful that it’s a more taxing system which requires constant movement and demands the mental discipline to enable that level of expended energy.
“It’s night to night,” he said. “How many times are you going to come and play at that level of intensity and energy offensively? That’s not an easy way for us to play. If we don’t bring defensive intensity and ball pressure and if we don’t bring energy, then we really are not going to have much of a chance to win. The challenge is it’s never going to be easy for us. It’s always going to require great effort and a great pace and energy.”
If the Pistons have caught a break in going 4-3 through the first half of the 14-game test, it was the spacing of the schedule. Only the Cleveland game presented a scheduling disadvantage. Now it turns. They’ll space these next seven games over 12 nights, not the 15 of the first seven, and face a disadvantage on Saturday at Philadelphia – a back to back for the Pistons while the 76ers will have been off on Friday.
“It’s a different animal and against quality opponents,” Van Gundy said. “Can you consistently bring that? That’s going to be the question. I think we’ve shown ourselves what we’re capable of when we play the way we’re supposed to. Now the challenge is that’s the way you have to play – can you bring it every night like that? So we’ll see.”
The Pistons face another road-heavy stretch of schedule after the All-Star break when they’ll play just three home games among another 14-game segment. But eight of those games come against teams currently with losing records, including three of the five worst teams in the league: Sacramento, Phoenix and Chicago.
So they’re 4-3 with a chance to do better than break even over this 14-game grind as they open the back end of it. With Van Gundy’s caveat that things can and do change significantly very quickly in today’s NBA, the Pistons are in about as good a place mentally as they could be as they prepare to take on Washington tonight to get their road trip rolling.
“Personally, I’m good. I just keep taking a day-to-day approach,” Reggie Jackson said. “It’s something I think this team is doing, as well. Trying to get better each and every day. I think it’s really showing in the way that we play. We’re finding a way to bring energy just because we’re relishing the moment. We’re not taking anything for granted.”