Pistons fight to finish in loss to Lakers

Three quick observations from Sunday night’s 110-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center

ROUGH ROAD – The season hit the unofficial quarter pole with the Pistons on pace for a 16-win season, but that doesn’t take into account the degree of difficulty they’ve faced in scheduling so far. The Pistons went into Sunday’s loss to the Lakers at Staples Center 0-12 against teams with winning records this season but a winning record themselves, 4-3, against teams under .500. They were even with the Lakers, 10-11 at tipoff, until near the midway point of the third quarter when turnovers helped fuel a 16-0 Los Angeles run that fed an eventual 19-point lead. The Pistons committed six of their 17 turnovers in the third quarter – they didn’t commit any after turning it over on the first possession of the fourth quarter – that the Lakers converted into 12 points as they shot 14 of 21 during the quarter. The Pistons cut their deficit to six midway through the fourth quarter and again with two minutes left on a Frank Jackson triple, but couldn’t get it below six until Jerami Grant’s two free throws with 17 seconds left made it 108-104. Cade Cunningham (15 points, 11 rebounds) committed five Pistons turnovers and Grant was charged with four in an otherwise brilliant game in which he scored 32 points, grabbed six rebounds and distributed four assists. Trey Lyles, who’d averaged 16 points and six rebounds over the past two games, again gave the Pistons a big boost off the bench, hitting 5 of 7 shots in scoring 13 points to go with seven boards in 17 minutes. Frank Jackson added 17 points and five assists off the bench and Hamidou Diallo 10 points. The bench combined for 42 points.

HAYES RETURNS – Killian Hayes, who missed the past four games and five total with a left thumb injury since initially incurring it earlier this month, was back in the starting lineup on game three of the season’s longest road trip. Hayes finished with six points, eight assists and just one turnover in nearly 29 minutes. Hayes scored on his first move of the game, getting to the rim and scoring on a layup by surprising DeAndre Jordan with a quick shot to avoid a block. He flashed the defensive ability Dwane Casey lauded before the game – “one of our better on-ball defenders and that’s an area where his growth has really skyrocketed,” Casey said – when, after getting switched on to LeBron James, Hayes forced James into a difficult driving attempt that missed. After one of his three defensive rebounds, Hayes went end to end, got deep into the paint and made a perfect pass to a wide-open Jerami Grant for a 3-point make. With Hayes’ return, second-year guard Saben Lee was out of the rotation after logging 50 of his season total of 93 minutes over the past two games. Lee averaged 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds. 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals in those games.

STAR POWER – The Lakers had to gut their roster to accommodate Russell Westbrook’s salary in the deal that brought him to Los Angeles from Washington over the off-season. It gives Los Angels a top-heavy roster with Westbrook joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the expense of the depth a roster with so many veterans on the other side of 30 usually requires to withstand the rigors of an 82-game season. But the three stars are definitely capable of carrying the Lakers on any given night, no matter what other contributions they might get. The big three combined for 82 points in Sunday’s win, including 61 of 72 points when the decisive 16-0 run by the Lakers concluded with 4:44 left in the third quarter on a Cade Cunningham basket. James finished with 33 points, five rebounds and nine assists; Westbrook with 25 points, six rebounds and nine assists; and Davis with 24 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Only four other Lakers scored, led by Talen Horton-Tucker’s 12 points.