January 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Vincent Goodwill

Pistons' progress tempered by loss to Bobcats

Rookie big man Andre Drummond has been the Pistons’ most efficient player and, surprisingly, one of their most consistent. (Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News)

Auburn Hills -- The Pistons just completed their seasonlong five-game home stand Sunday night at 4-1, have closed out a few tight games and appeared to be on an uptick before their loss to the Bobcats .

News: Before Sunday night's 108-101 overtime loss to Charlotte, Detroit had won four in a row and six of seven overall. Considering the competition (the Bobcats lost 19 of 20) and the fact the Pistons won't play again until Friday in Milwaukee, is this a bad loss or minor hiccup?

Views: It's a bad loss, borderline inexcusable, despite their recent success. The confidence in the locker room had been flowing like championship champagne before this. Players weren't talking about the lottery, although it's a few months away. They looked at the Eastern Conference and saw an opening to get in, a way of showing true progress.

Taking care of business against a competing, but losing team, like the Bobcats is an order of business the Pistons can't afford to miss out on. Losing their first eight games erased their cushion of error.

News: Despite the loss, it leaves them 4.5 games out of the eighth playoff spot, and their minus 1.6 points-per-game differential is on par with Milwaukee (minus 1.3) and Boston (minus 1.5). Lawrence Frank insists it's evidence of tangible progress.

Views: It partly means they aren't getting whacked by 20 points anymore, like they did to start the lockout-shortened season last year. They are more competitive and in their last three wins, against Milwaukee, Sacramento and Atlanta, the wins were decided by an average of three points.

The Pistons are 6-13 in games decided by seven points or fewer, having played a surprising number of close games thus far, more than half their schedule. Boston is 7-5 in games decided by seven or fewer and Milwaukee is 7-6.

The Pistons are improving in crunch time of close games and forward Tayshaun Prince said he actually believes the team has broken through a mental barrier. No longer does this team look panicked or resigned to the fact they'll find a way to give a game away, as they had in the first month and a half of the season.

Sunday's loss notwithstanding, and despite their troubling trend of giving up leads in the fourth quarter, they've found a way to make just enough plays to win games, notably on the defensive end.

News: In the fourth quarter of the last four games, three of them wins, the Pistons have been outscored 92-66.

Views: Scoring just 16.5 points in the fourth quarter usually isn't a recipe for winning basketball, unless you have an ironclad defense, which the Pistons don't. Games slow down when it gets tight and the better teams traditionally have a go-to guy.

During the Pistons' four-game winning streak, they had four different leading scorers (three off the bench) and none was named Greg Monroe, which shows this team's versatility when it's at its best.

The Pistons, controlling the boards and limiting crucial turnovers (until Sunday), were able to mask some uneven point-guard play recently, a direct factor in their offense slowing down. Rodney Stuckey, easing back from his ankle injury, should rectify that, but these are the growing pains a team deals with when deciding to develop Brandon Knight in the manner the Pistons are. Trial by fire.

News: Rookie Andre Drummond is the team's second-leading rebounder (7.2) and leading shot-blocker (1.5) while being the most efficient Piston (21.7 PER, 18th in the NBA).

Views: If the NBA draft were to be redone today, only New Orleans' Anthony Davis would surely go ahead of Drummond, and it would be a neck-and-neck pick between the Pistons' big man and Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, the front-runner for Rookie of the Year.

Taking 18-year-old big men in the NBA draft is still a risk, and the Pistons deemed Drummond an acceptable one, so the front office should be commended, revisionist history be damned.

Drummond is making improvements in leaps and bounds, and nobody expected he'd be on the floor to make game-saving blocks, as he did against Atlanta on Friday and like he almost did Sunday, if the Pistons would've recovered the loose ball late in regulation. And despite his youth, he's one of the handful of Pistons you can expect consistent production from every night — and remember, "consistency" was something he was red-flagged about headed into the draft.

Those draft evaluators surely got it right with Drummond, didn't they?

vgoodwill@detnews.com

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