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DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 16: Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons drives to the basket during the game against the Phoenix Suns on January 16, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. 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 2022 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)

Pistons lose to Suns as Cade’s ejection riles crowd

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 135-108 loss to the Phoenix Suns at Little Caesars Arena

WHAT’S THE POINT? – The Pistons were down 20 points to the juggernaut otherwise known as the Phoenix Suns when Cade Cunningham was ejected after a spectacular baseline drive and reverse dunk, so maybe the outcome of the game wasn’t altered by that decision. But it didn’t sit well with Dwane Casey, the Pistons bench or the Sunday matinee crowd to see the rookie slapped with a second technical and automatic ejection amid a thoroughly entertaining game with the No. 1 pick at the heart of it. Cunningham had picked up a technical earlier in the third quarter after he was called for fouling JaVale McGee while trying to defend a lob pass. Cunningham pointed back toward the Pistons bench or the basket after his dunk from his landing spot on the opposite sideline, but apparently it was perceived as taunting the two defenders Cunningham evaded to complete the dunk, Jalen Smith and Cameron Payne. Cunningham offered no apparent objection to the call, but his ejection darkened the mood of a Little Caesars Arena that otherwise enjoyed an often-remarkable display of shot-making from both teams but especially Phoenix and Devin Booker in particular. The Michigan native scored 30 points on 11 of 18 shooting in 30 minutes. Cunningham finished with 21 points on 9 of 15 shooting plus four assists in 24 minutes. The loss snapped a four-game Pistons home win streak. Phoenix, on pace to win 64 games, improved its NBA-best record to 32-10. Josh Jackson also picked up a second technical foul for a minor scuffle that also saw Phoenix’s Isaiah Wainwright assessed a technical foul in the game’s final minute to earn an ejection.

OLYNYK’S RETURN – Kelly Olynyk was on the active list, but he missed his 32nd straight game since suffering a Grade 2 medial collateral ligament sprain of his right knee in a Nov. 10 win at Houston. Olynyk’s return could be imminent, though, Dwane Casey suggested prior to the game when he said he wasn’t yet ruled out for Sunday’s game. “We hope so,” Casey said when asked if he expected Olynyk to return while the Pistons are on their four-game road trip that opens Tuesday night at Golden State. “He was going to see how he felt today. We’ll look and see where he is.” With Olynyk nearing his return, the Pistons get a little more size and can now choose to use Trey Lyles at center when it suits their needs rather than out of necessity. The loss of Olynyk was compounded by the December thumb injury that has sidelined Jerami Grant for more than a month, further thinning out the frontcourt. Lyles has provided steady scoring since seeing his role increase with Olynyk’s absence, averaging 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds over his last nine games. He’s one of two NBA players – Brandon Clarke of Memphis the other – to average 10.0 or more points and 7.0 or more rebounds for January off the bench. With Olynyk back, Lyles figures to get his minutes at power forward with the second unit, though Casey can still use him at center when facing smaller lineups.

STANLEY’S STANDING – Cassius Stanley has been part of Dwane Casey’s second unit playing as an undersized small forward in three-guard lineups that include Saben Lee and Cory Joseph, but that might be coming to an end. Stanley signed a second COVID-19 hardship 10-day contract on Jan. 8 and that will expire before the Pistons play next at Golden State on Tuesday. His spot on the second unit could wind up going to Frank Jackson, though, as he’s close to returning after first injuring his ankle on Dec. 29 and then entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Jackson went through Sunday’s walkthrough, Dwane Casey said, though he was ruled out for the game on the NBA’s official injury report. Jackson was again listed under “health and safety protocols” on the Sunday report, though Casey expressed his surprise at that news given Jackson’s presence at Little Caesars Arena prior to the game. If Jackson is, indeed, not in health and safety protocols, then the Pistons would have no spots for an emergency 10-day contract for Stanley or anyone else. If it was Stanley’s last game on this tour of duty with the Pistons, he went out on a high note, scoring eight points to go with three rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes.