Auburn Hills — Once the smoke lifted from pregame fireworks and the fog dissipated from the Pistons’ heads, the evening turned into a nice season-opening party for the home team.
The music was loud, the entertainment strong and the Pistons looked like a team that could be righting itself even though all of its parts are not together and whole. The Pistons beat the Washington Wizards, 113-102, Wednesday night as a new era of basketball begins.
But this is not reason to celebrate or breathe a sigh of relief. All the moving parts are not in place for this new and improved Pistons machine. And because of that the Pistons might not get off to the start the Pistons brass envisioned.
Yeah, the Pistons won and put up some impressive numbers, but they played a disjointed and incomplete game. Passes were off. People were not in places they were expected to be. In other words, it is obvious this is a work in progress and the roster is filled with young players discovering their games.
But let’s give them this much credit. The Pistons played hard even though they were not always smart.
“I am proud of how we played,” said guard Chauncey Billups. “I think guys played their butts off. I would like to see us get a little smarter in the fourth quarter, but that is the youth and inexperience. But as far as effort and everybody being locked in and playing for each other, it’s great.”
Jennings will change things
Things should improve when point guard Brandon Jennings (busted jaw) steps back into uniform sometime next week. He is the engine that pushes this sleek vehicle. And although Billups and Will Bynum played well enough, it will be interesting to see what pace Jennings keeps on the floor.
Hopefully owner Tom Gores noticed who got the most cheers. It was 2004 Finals Most Valuable Player Billups, who received a standing ovation and showed folks he’s still got game. He finished with 16 points, five assists and had just one turnover.
When this journey is complete in a few years the Pistons are in this to win a title or at the very least contend for one. They are not in a spot to do this yet because they are a work in progress and it is obvious the team chemistry is fractured because they don’t know each other well enough yet.
How does Josh Smith fit in? Where will Jennings fit in? And how long will it take rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to take a deep breath and slow his game down and read things better?
“There is a huge opportunity for us to get better as a team,” Billups said. “To be honest with you, we have not seen our real team yet. There are a lot of unknowns out there.”
Unknowns remain but some valuable pieces were in full flow.
They were ...
■ Andre Drummond (12 points and eight rebounds) was active and threw down three one-hand spike dunks off missed shots. If this were the Olympics, he would get a 9.7 on the judge’s card.
■ Billups can still run a team. He is savvy, can still shoot and doles out advice like Dear Abby back in the day. And he is still Mr. Big Shot, hitting two clutch jumpers when the Wizards threatened to steal the game near the end.
■ Greg Monroe is not yet willing to give up his position as young team leader. He played with great energy and battled well inside, finishing with 24 points and 16 rebounds.
■ Will Bynum (19 points, five assists) started but showed he will be a valuable performer off the bench when this team is whole.
“We are a confident bunch,” Smith said. “We have a lot of talented guys on this team. Even though we are a couple men down there are some guys that got good experience in this preseason. When their number is called, I think they will step up.”
Where is this team headed? There are no titles to be won this season. They are not good enough for that. However, the Pistons made a nice first step toward gunning for a top six seed.
It was not the perfect night but the Pistons left The Palace with a perfect record.
“I think we played well,” Monroe said. “There are some things we need to clean up and there might be some things we missed. But everybody that had to step up early played their role and did a good job. Hopefully we will get better.”