Pistons coach Lawrence Frank says the team's early-season struggles can be attributed to its commitment to defense. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — When you ask Pistons coach Lawrence Frank what's wrong with his team, the conversation always turns to defense.
He preaches it and teaches it. And for whatever reason, it takes a while for his philosophy to reach players. The result is the Pistons are digging themselves out of another slow start.
Last season the Pistons started 4-20 and were 21-21 the rest of the season.
This year there are signs of another turnaround. After losing their first eight, the Pistons are 4-3 heading into tonight's home game against the Phoenix Suns.
"The reason we are off to a slow start is because we have not committed every day defensively," Frank said. "When we've done that we've played better basketball. There were games where we had leads, but because we were not able to get stops we were unable to win."
Making the pieces fit
Some want to blame Frank for blowing a couple of games and for his panic substitution in the third quarter of the Orlando game. During a 21-0 run, he pulled his five starters and filled the court with reserves. It was not a good move. Of course, if Frank had a championship ring, it would have been viewed as a move of authority.
Frank can put together a game plan. What he's still learning is how to put this team in position to win. Brandon Knight is a budding star but in his second season, his tendencies aren't a secret anymore. They call Greg Monroe "Moose" but he is still a baby. Kyle Singler played in Spain last season. Corey Maggette is expected to play a big role but must get into NBA shape. And rookie Andre Drummond is sort of running around like a mad man. Sometimes he makes great plays. Sometimes he plays himself out of position. The pieces don't fit yet.
The numbers back Frank. Even after a 108-101 victory over Portland Monday the Pistons have only given up an average of 87.5 points in their wins and held opponents to 39.3-percent shooting.
In losses, opponents are averaging 103.0 points and shooting 46.6 percent.
Defense is key. However, it is up to a coach to push the right buttons. The Pistons have blown three leads of at least 11 points in the fourth quarter. Frank has made significant changes. Singler replaced Rodney Stuckey in the starting lineup and Frank dug Charlie Villanueva out of mothballs to replace struggling Jonas Jerebko.
Tayshaun Prince says the Pistons are searching for consistency.
"We made progress, but at the end of the day it has to be a consistent thing," Prince said. "One thing for young players is to understand they have to be able to play and also figure out guys' tendencies — what guys like to do. Kyle (Singler) is figuring that out now. He has a great basketball IQ but he is still figuring out guys' tendencies. … We got a lot of young guys who must play and learn."
Frank is confident the tide is turning.
"We will get it once we are all looking through the same prism," he said. "As long as we look at it like, 'How can I get my next shot,' instead of, 'How can I get my next stop,' we will be very, very inconsistent. Once we start looking at things the same way we are going to be a defensive-first team."
Suns at Pistons
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, The Palace, Auburn Hills
Records: Pistons 4-11, Suns 6-8