December 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Consistent defensive effort is needed for Pistons to take next step

Auburn Hills — The Pistons were all smiles Sunday after an easy, 115-100 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Palace.

They put up some eye-opening numbers which thrilled a sparse but enthusiastic crowd. They scored 70 points in the first half and, apart from a sluggish third quarter, seemed to get a basket just about any time they wanted.

Their best defender, Andre Drummond, scored 31 points and was so defiant at the free-throw line that he pointed a jagged finger at Sixers coach Brett Brown after he was deliberately put on the line.

So what does this all mean? In the grand scheme of things it matters little. The Pistons smacked around a Sixers team that has given up an average of 112.7 points in a nine-game road losing streak. After a hot start the Sixers (6-12) are taking their rightful spot as one of the NBA’s bottom feeders.

The Pistons will be right along with them unless they can grasp two things.

They must play better defense and they must figure out the fourth quarter shutdowns that have prevented this dismal season from being better.

The key word is “effort.” The Pistons say they must learn to close out games. I beg to differ. They must figure a way to prevent teams from imposing their will on them. The better teams do it. The lesser teams usually don’t.

No time to wait

The Pistons are 7-1 against teams with losing records. They are 0-9 against teams that are .500 or above.

Let’s throw a challenge to the Pistons. They play three road games this week. Two are against the Chicago Bulls (7-8) and Miami Heat (13-3) and the other is against Milwaukee (3-13). The Pistons won’t win in Miami. But I challenge them to win in Chicago and Milwaukee.

That would help right this ship and establish this as a playoff team.

“It is still coming along,” guard Brandon Jennings said. “This is going to be an important month. Teams are going to start making their moves now and if we want to be one of those top teams we are going to have to start taking care of business.”

Christmas is three weeks away and that is the unofficial beginning of the NBA season. It seems as if the better teams have most wrinkles ironed out by then. The Pistons cannot afford to wait so long because they are not an elite team. Their moment is now.

That is why coach Maurice Cheeks drew the number “48” on the erase board. The Pistons must play an entire game of defense.

No excuses

The Pistons put up nice offensive numbers on Sunday. But the Pistons’ woes are not about putting the ball in the basket. They are about stopping opponents.

In the Pistons’ 10 losses opponents averaged 105.9 points and shot 50.3 percent. In their seven wins opponents are averaging 92.2 points and shooting 43.5 percent.

No one on this team is comfortable pushing teammates on defense. Veteran Chauncey Billups believes Drummond will become that man someday. But he said it is unfair to ask Drummond to do that because he is so young.

“You can always get better,” guard Rodney Stuckey said. “Defense takes you a long way, man. That is what wins ball games and championships. We have to keep communicating with each other and hopefully we get on the same page.”

Sometimes the Pistons are on the same page and we see how beautifully the game of basketball can be played. But they remain slightly confused, befuddled and still trying to figure one another out.

“That’s the NBA,” Jennings shrugged. “We had training camp, a whole month of preseason. There are no more excuses for anything. I’m not rolling with excuses from anybody. We just have to get it done.”

Pistons' Josh Smith defends the 76ers' Tony Wroten in the third quarter Sunday in Detroit's 115-100 over Philadelphia. Similar defensive efforts will be needed for the Piston to make progress. / Clarence Tabb Jr / Detroit News
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