PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 18: Alec Burks #5, Jalen Duren #0 and Isaiah Stewart #28 of the Detroit Pistons during practice and media availability as part of NBA Paris Games 2023 at the Palais des sports Marcel-Cerdan on January 18, 2023 in Paris, France. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Pistons back home to host fully loaded Bucks off of Paris trip

A trip to Europe didn’t do much to alter exchange-rate reality for the Pistons. In their economy, if one big man returns another must exit.

Back from Paris and ready to resume a more ordinary NBA experience, the Pistons will host Milwaukee on Monday with Jalen Duren having returned from injury one game ago, Isaiah Stewart unavailable with a shoulder injury and Nerlens Noel likely to relieve Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox of emergency center roles.

It’s been a revolving door up front for the Pistons since the calendar flipped to 2023, starting with Marvin Bagley III’s broken hand incurred in the new year’s first game, a Jan. 2 loss at Portland. Stewart missed three games with left shoulder soreness before returning for a pair and Duren missed before coming back against Chicago.

No one would have wished the injury on Duren, but Dwane Casey felt the right ankle injury came at a time when the NBA’s youngest player was in need of a reprieve.

“I wouldn’t say I was worn down,” Duren said after Sunday’s practice with the Pistons back stateside.“ I probably would say everybody is tired. Everybody’s sore. My first year, I’m just getting used to all the travel but I feel like I’m ready to go any time.”

While Duren sat, Noel – used in only eight games all season until the recent run of injuries decimated Casey’s frontcourt – reminded the NBA of his defensive prowess. In leading a Pistons win over Minnesota two weeks ago, Noel recorded four blocked shots and three steals in a decisive third-quarter spurt. Duren was among those who took note. But Noel has since missed the past two games with a foot issue.

“Just the simple fact of always being ready to go,” Duren said of the veteran’s pinch-hit success. “Nerlens has been a great veteran presence for us bigs. Just him going out there when his name is called and being ready to produce is huge.”

Having Duren and Noel available at least spares the Pistons the need to play Diallo or Knox at center against one of the NBA’s most powerful teams, the Bucks. Milwaukee comes to Little Caesars Arena as the NBA’s No. 2 rebounding team and gets back MVP contender Giannis Antetokounmpo plus All-Star Khris Middleton. Antetokounmpo has missed Milwaukee’s last five games with a knee injury and Middleton has been out since Dec. 15 with knee soreness after missing all but seven games to that point with a wrist injury that dated to last season.

It will be just the second game for the Pistons since they hosted New York on Jan. 15, yet only a handful of teams have logged as many as the 48 games Detroit has played already. The Pistons will have more off days and fewer extended road trips over the season’s final 11 weeks, giving Casey more opportunities to practice than is typical at a point of the season when teams generally are scaling back on practice time to preserve energy. Especially because the Pistons are so young – four starters 21 or younger and 10 players 24 or younger on the roster – Casey will lean in to teaching and fundamentals down the stretch.

“That’s what I told the team. ‘We’re not doing this to punish you. We’re doing this to continue to grow and get better.’ We have to,” Casey said. “It’s about growth. It’s about building habits, winning habits. I thought the Chicago game, for whatever reason, it was probably one of our worst games defensively as far as our assignments. The focus part – that’s what today was about, focusing in, locking in defensively.”