March 12, 2013 at 1:52 am

Vincent Goodwill

Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe still putting up good fight

Pistons guard Brandon Knight, shown here against the Magic earlier this season, left Monday night's game against the Utah Jazz with an ankle injury. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./Detroit News)

Salt Lake City — The endless loop of highlights displaying Brandon Knight as an unwilling victim to DeAndre Jordan's alley-oop dunk during Sunday's loss to the Clippers won't end anytime soon, but the Pistons face more pressing issues right now.

Lately, the Pistons have been all-too-willing to lie down for opponents and Sunday was the most recent example.

Their lack of effort was as subtle as a sledgehammer the last two Sunday nights against the L.A. Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, two Western Conference powers. When you lose two by a combined 71 points, it's more than just the other teams being better, and after Sunday's game Greg Monroe had the guts to say what the scores since the All-Star break had been indicating.

"No effort, no fight. It was an embarrassment," Monroe said. "Maybe guys don't care. This has to change, this can't continue. If you don't want to play, just say it."

They've gone 2-10 since the break, having lost by double digits eight times including Monday's 103-90 loss in Utah, mixing in close losses to the Hornets and Mavericks.

"This is unacceptable," said Monroe, seemingly calling out his teammates with no need to name names.

"If you don't want to play, you should say it," he said. "This has gone on too long. If you don't want to be on the court and give 100 percent, don't play."

Monroe hasn't spoken up this forcefully since a loss last year in Oklahoma City, where he, by his own admission, was terrible and took responsibility for the loss.

Sunday, Monroe wanted no part of putting any blame on acting coach Brian Hill, who'll likely coach the team for the remainder of the four-game West Coast swing that concludes Saturday night in Portland.

"This has nothing to do with Coach Hill," Monroe said. "We prepared the same way we do every game. We had enough information. We knew what they were going to do. There was no effort from us."

The Pistons certainly miss Andre Drummond's energy and spirit. He's an athletic big man and his shot-blocking and rebounding skills can make up for a lot of mistakes.

During his absence with a back injury, athletic teams are running roughshod over the Pistons, as are tough teams, good shooting teams and any other team with a decided advantage in any given area.

A question the Pistons must collectively ask themselves: When is the last time they've taken away a team's No. 1 strength, forcing them to beat the Pistons with a secondary approach?

For someone who prides himself on preparation and effort, this recent stretch has to turn Knight's stomach.

In his own way, Knight was trying to fill the void vacated by Tayshaun Prince when Prince was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Whether he was liked or loathed by the public, Prince was respected in the locker room, and judging by how things have fallen apart recently, it's hard to argue that he wasn't the glue that was holding the Pistons together.

Knight, in accepting his move to shooting guard, has been trying to show his teammates how to be a professional. Hill admitted Knight has slowly but surely become more vocal and demonstrative with his teammates in terms of being a leader.

Knight could've sulked after Jose Calderon became the starting point guard and Knight had the unenviable task of going against bigger and stronger players every night.

He didn't look at the move to shooting guard as a demotion, but a challenge, the same way he viewed challenging Jordan on that fateful play on Sunday night.

Knight's professionalism can't be questioned, and at the tender age of 21, that should be commended, embarrassment aside.

Knight has to be disturbed by the team's effort and his frustration has started to seep out, ever-so-slightly. He saw the Clippers doing something he's seen too often recently, and tried to stop it, even if he did get run over in the process.

vgoodwill@detroitnews.com

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