Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 110-92 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center
LATE-NIGHT SLOG – Portland ranks fourth in offense under first-year coach Chauncey Billups, but it wasn’t the Trail Blazers offense that established the tone of their WIN over the Pistons. It was their 29th-ranked defense that held the Pistons to 62 points over the first three quarters, inducing 19 turnovers and allowed the Pistons only 76 shot attempts, 12 below their average 88. The Pistons were outscored 19-14 in second-chance points, 19-7 in points off turnovers and 42-27 from the 3-point arc on 25.7 percent shooting from distance. The Pistons saw their season-high losing streak extended to seven games. Portland won its 10th straight home game after dropping the home opener. Portland came into the game at 10-11 and in the No. 10 position but just one game behind the Dallas Mavericks, 10-9, which began the night as the No. 4 seed in the West. In addition to a big game from Cade Cunningham – a career-best 26 points – the Pistons got a double-double out of Isaiah Stewart with 15 points and 14 rebounds and a nice overall game from Killian Hayes with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and his customary sticky defense.
CADE COMING ON – You can see Cade Cunningham becoming more comfortable as the game slows down for him. He was much more selective and efficient in the game at Portland, taking only four first-half shots but making all of them, including a pair of triples. At one point in the fourth quarter, Cunningham had taken nine shots and made eight, including 4 of 5 from the 3-point arc, for 21 points. Cunningham finished with 26 points and seven rebounds, hitting 10 of 13 shots and 5 of 7 from the 3-point line. Cunningham’s numbers over his eight games coming into Portland showed the ways he can have an impact with averages of 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.6 steals. His shooting efficiency remains the most glaring negative at 33.5 percent overall and 24.5 percent from the 3-point arc, but Cunningham’s shooting ability is probably the last thing the Pistons are concerned about over the long haul with the draft’s No. 1 pick. He’s registered a triple-double and three double-doubles already, which puts him behind only Joe Dumars (seven) and Lindsey Hunter (three) in double-doubles among Pistons rookie guards.
QUARTER POLE – Dwane Casey said a month ago that he wasn’t going to consider any significant changes to the blueprint for at least 20 games – essentially, the first quarter of the season. The Pistons hit the 20-game mark with Sunday’s loss to the Lakers at 4-16 in the face of one of the NBA’s most difficult schedules. Injuries – the most significant to Kelly Olynyk, who’ll be re-evaluated around Christmas after injuring his knee on Nov. 2 – have altered the equation somewhat, but there was nothing radically different about Casey’s lineups or substitution pattern in Tuesday’s loss. But one new wrinkle Casey has used the past few games has produced some promising results. He’s made increasing use of lineups with Cade Cunningham playing with two other guards, a unit made possible by the size Cunningham and Killian Hayes provide and also their rebounding ability, Cunningham’s especially. Cunningham is averaging 6.5 rebounds a game, which would be the most by any guard in Pistons history if it holds up for the season. Casey has been taking Saddiq Bey out of the lineup first so Bey can replace Jerami Grant at power forward when Grant sits and replacing Bey with Frank Jackson. In the second half, Casey had to mix things up in part because of foul trouble that sidelined Isaiah Stewart with four midway through the quarter. With 7-footer Jusuf Nurkic in the game, Casey went with Garza over Trey Lyles for Stewart. Josh Jackson, who didn’t play in the first half, also entered midway through the third quarter once Portland established its largest lead to that point, 17.