Pistons Hit Rough Stretch, Drop Five of Six

FEB 26 – 23-34 is not usually the record of a team in playoff contention.

Through a coach firing, bricks galore and a horrible conference, the Detroit Pistons miraculously find themselves four games out of the playoffs with 25 games remaining. Their recent 1-5 stretch has not helped their chances, but with no one wanting to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, Detroit is in prime position to screw up yet another season.

Here is a breakdown of their last six games.

The Cavaliers came to the Palace for the last game before the All-Star break. Trailing the Pistons by three games at the time, this was viewed as a must-win for both teams.

Detroit held a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter and looked in control on their home court. The Cavs went on an 8-0 run midway through the quarter to cut the deficit to two points. Tristan Thompson came up clutch for Cleveland late, scoring eight straight for his team in the final frame and 25 points overall. He also pitched in with 15 boards.

A pair of Kyrie Irving free throws with two minutes remaining gave the Cavaliers a one-point lead. Irving showed why he is regarded as one of the brightest young talents in the league by hitting a three-pointer with 27 seconds left to seal the game for the Cavs. They went on to win 93-89.

After a much-needed reprieve for the Pistons due to the All-Star break, they opened a back-to-back home-and-home series with the Charlotte Bobcats. Detroit received a thumping in both contests, dropping the first game at home 108-96 and the road game 116-98. The Pistons’ bigs had no answer for Al Jefferson, as he scored 32 and 29 points, respectively. Detroit was tied with Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East before the two games, which turned into another opportunity squandered.

After the brief one-game road trip, Josh Smith got some revenge on his former team in their next game against the Atlanta Hawks. The Pistons found themselves in a familiar position at halftime, down by 11. In uncharacteristic fashion, Detroit was actually able to mount a comeback. An 8-0 run midway through the third quarter brought the Pistons even with Atlanta at 71.

With two minutes left in the game, Kyle Singler broke a 104-104 tie with a bomb from beyond the arc and an and-one by Will Bynum a minute later extended the lead. Singler sealed the deal with another three as Detroit walked away with a 115-107 win.

Dallas, a sneaky good team flying under the radar in the Western Conference, was next up for the Pistons. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis were too much to handle for Detroit and handed them yet another home loss. The Pistons were never really in the game, down by 10 at halftime and unable to get closer than four points for the rest of the game. Nowitzki scored 24 for the Mavs and Ellis dished out 13 assists.

The final game of Detroit’s 1-5 streak came against Golden State on Monday. The Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) made their only visit to the Palace this year. It was an entertaining game throughout, with the Pistons hanging tough with the hot-shooting Warriors. They found themselves up three at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The final frame always seems to be the Achilles heel for the Pistons, and Monday’s matchup was no exception. Detroit could only muster 13 points in the fourth quarter and were outscored by 10 points. With Curry only shooting 6-15 from the field and 3-9 from deep, the Pistons had their best shot at beating Golden State. But the defense collapsed and the Warriors made it rain from three-point land, running away with a 104-96 win.

Through this six-game stretch, new interim coach John Loyer inserted Singler into the starting lineup in place of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Singler has been averaging 13.3 points per game in the last six, including hitting 50 percent of his three-pointers. The switch seems to be helping Singler, but at this point any roster changes may be too little too late.

Josh Smith was nearly traded at the deadline, but Joe Dumars could not swing a deal in time. In the last six games, his play has improved slightly, averaging 18.5 points per game with double-digit rebounds in four of those games.

Greg Monroe, also rumored to be on the trading block, remains a Piston until at least the end of the season. He has been one of the most consistent players on the team, scoring at least 13 points in the last six and making at least five shots per game.

Detroit might be the most frustrating team to watch in the NBA. With so much star power and young talent on the team, they should be bound for the playoffs. But every time they appear to be turning a corner in their season, they fall flat on their faces. As of right now, no one knows if they will make the playoffs, and we might not know until the final game has been played.


Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.

 

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Opinion: Pistons Need to Shake Things Up

JAN 21 – After a MLK Day drubbing by the Los Angeles Clippers, the Detroit Pistons found themselves with a record of 17-24. At this time last year, an “inferior” Pistons squad was 16-25. The addition of superstars does not guarantee success, I suppose. Detroit must do something to break out of their funk and take advantage of a weak Eastern Conference, and it starts with the starting lineup.

Coach Mo Cheeks likes to have Andre DrummondGreg Monroe and Josh Smith on the court at the same time. While this combination may be physically imposing, it also creates problems. Spacing has been a major concern ever since Smith signed on the dotted line and those concerns have not gone away with time.

Drummond is ineffective outside of five feet. Monroe has slightly more range than Drummond, but likes to utilize post moves. Smith is at his best when he drives to the basket, but has a tendency to jack up more than the occasional three-pointer. With the paint so congested, defenses can collapse down low and deny any penetration.

The Pistons need to make a change to their starting lineup, and they should go smaller. According to nba.com, the Pistons are dead last in opponent field goal percentage from 15 to 19 feet and 20 to 24 feet. Opposing teams take advantage of Detroit’s lack of athleticism and quickness by drawing the bigs out of the paint and creating mismatches. While on offense, the Pistons are in the bottom five in field goal percentage outside of 10 feet, yet they are No. 3 in field goals attempted from 25 to 29 feet.

According to nbawowy.com, with the combination of Smith, Monroe and Drummond on the floor, opposing teams shoot 48.8 percent from the field. Take out Monroe and insert Kyle Singler and things change. Opponents now shoot 44.6 percent from the field. Detroit cannot afford to load up the paint and neglect the rest of the court.

Now to the backcourt. With Rodney Stuckey finally playing at a high level, I believe he should be in the starting lineup instead of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Using nbawowy.com again, the combination of Brandon Jennings and KCP produces 1.035 points per possession while shooting 44.5 percent. With Jennings and Stuckey together, they produce 1.103 ppp and shoot 46.5 percent.

Coach Cheeks usually gives both players the same amount of minutes, but Stuckey is vastly outplaying the rookie. Using per 36-minute stats to make things perfectly even, Stuckey shoots nearly seven percent better from the field and almost doubles the rookie in scoring. I can understand wanting to give KCP experience, but the Pistons should be in panic mode right now. Start Stuckey and the offense immediately improves.

There have been strong rumors that the Pistons will be active before the trade deadline. Most people think that Monroe will be dealt because of his expiring contract and the fact that his agent will push for a max contract over the summer. With Stuckey also having an expiring contract and playing so well this season, he could be thrown in to sweeten the deal and help with the salary cap.

The strongest rumor has been Monroe and Stuckey for Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris of the Orlando Magic. Afflalo, a former Piston, is having the best season of his career, averaging 20.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. This could be a fluke season (see Charlie Villanueva) or the birth of a great young player. Harris is also playing much better than his career numbers. He is averaging 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game at just 21 years of age.

Whatever the Pistons do, they need to do something before it is too late. If the Smith/Jennings signings do not result in a playoff birth, then look for Joe Dumars to be out the door very quickly.

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Logjam in Backcourt Hurts KCP, Bynum

Nov 7, 2013 – With the recent return of guards Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons find themselves in a sticky situation. Currently they have five guards on their roster, all of which have performed well when given the opportunity.Stuckey, Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum, and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) all have had their bright spots this season and look to contend for minutes. But five guards are too many to rotate through in one game. Someone has to sit out or take a significant cut in minutes. So far, the player affected most has been KCP.

In the first two games of the season, KCP averaged over 22 minutes on the court. He scored 13 points in only 18 minutes in a loss to Memphis. He added nine points in 27 minutes in the season opener versus Washington, in which both Stuckey and Jennings were inactive. With the return of both guards, there was just nowhere for coach Maurice Cheeks to place the rookie.

In the last two games against Boston and Indiana, KCP played zero and four minutes, respectively. Barring more injuries, it appears as if this will be a trend for KCP, unless Cheeks decides to give Billups games off for rest. Another option would be to move Pope to the small forward position. At 6-foot-5, it might be a bit of a stretch, but his shooting abilities make him well suited as a wingman.

The other guard that could see his role diminish is Will “The Thrill” Bynum, who started the first three games of the season alongside Billups. In his first two games, Bynum averaged 18.5 points and 5.5 assists. But when Jennings returned to the lineup against Boston, Bynum saw his minutes nearly cut in half.

In the two games Jennings has been active, Bynum only scored a total of nine points. The only way Bynum could see his minutes increase would be if Billups was given a night off or if Cheeks decided to move KCP over to the small forward position for a game.

Chauncey Billups has started every game for the Pistons so far this season. Although he’s seen his minutes slightly diminish in the last two games, it was expected. When he was signed in the offseason, the plan was for Chauncey to come off the bench and play 20-something minutes per game.

With all the injuries in the backcourt, Billups has been thrust into a starting role. Cheeks will likely shuffle the starting rotation as the season goes on, with Stuckey being the most likely to take the starting position from Billups.

The logjam at the guard position is a problem, but one that Coach Cheeks doesn’t mind having. This team is one of the deepest Pistons squads in years, and it will help in the dog days of the season. Players will be fresh, but not rusty. Being a former player himself, Cheeks knows how to handle the rotation, especially at the guard position.

For the remainder of the season, look for Jennings and Stuckey to get the bulk of the playing time in the backcourt, with Billups first off the bench. KCP will continue to get DNP’s next to his name, but could also sporadically see significant minutes to give someone rest. Bynum will see about 20 minutes of action per night, and will start a handful of games going forward.

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