December 11, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Lopsided loss to Timberwolves exposes Pistons' shortcomings

Auburn Hills — These weren’t exactly the big, bad Wolves.

But Minnesota’s bigs certainly made Detroit’s look bad for much of Tuesday night’s game at the Palace of Auburn Hills, a 121-94 home-wrecking that offered another reminder how much easier the Pistons have it in the Eastern Conference.

And how much their inconsistent defensive effort is holding them back, though, to be fair, it was consistently awful throughout this one — their worst-ever loss to the Timberwolves.

And maybe, too, how big a decision they’ll have when the calendar flips to 2014. Because if the Timberwolves’ Kevin Love isn’t worth a “max” contract — he is, he just hasn’t signed one yet — then are the Pistons really prepared to hand one to Greg Monroe after this season? Or will he end up on the trading block as many of us have suggested for some time now.

Those are questions for another day, I suppose. And Tuesday night’s embarrassment wasn’t simply confined to the power-forward position. Love was good for 26 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in just 30 minutes, while Monroe took a seat for good midway through the third quarter with 10 points, two rebounds and three assists.

At least they're East

He never checked back in, but by then it hardly seemed to matter. The Pistons weren’t going to mount a comeback. And both teams were ready to check out, conserving energy — and starter’s minutes — on the first night of a back-to-back. Minnesota heads home to play Philadelphia tonight, and the Pistons fly to New Orleans to face another sub-.500 opponent.

But losing records in the Western Conference aren’t the same as they are in the East. The Pistons, now 1-7 vs. the West this season (and 5-33 the last two), proved that once again Tuesday. Even falling to 10-12 on the season, they’re still sitting in sixth place in the East, a half-game behind Charlotte.

Minnesota, meanwhile, came in having lost seven of its last nine, but trailed just twice all night, scoring 64 points in the first half and leading by 30 in the second. They made it look easy, and afterward coach Maurice Cheeks probably summed it up best, “Clearly, a lot of the things they did were better than the things we did.”

Just as clearly, Love was better than anybody they had.

Love, in his first game back from a bereavement absence, had 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in just 18 minutes of the first half, staking the Timberwolves to a 13-point lead at the break. He did that by beating Monroe from the outside, knocking down three 3-pointers early, and by beating him inside, too, routinely getting to the rim and to the line.

“We gotta try to take away something from his game,” said forward Josh Smith, one of the few Pistons who stuck around for postgame interviews. “But we weren’t able to do that tonight.”

Another satisfied customer

No, Love pretty much came and went as he pleased, and so did the Timberwolves, who started parading to the free-throw line shortly after the opening tip.

At halftime they held a ridiculous 16-point edge at the free-throw line — 21 attempts to the Pistons’ three — that didn’t go unnoticed by the Palace crowd.

After a cheap foul call on rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope midway through the second quarter, a fan yelled for everyone to hear, “Hey, do you guys work the other end?”

“Thank you, thank you,” Cheeks grumbled near the Pistons’ bench.

Following Kevin Martin’s two free throws — the first volleys in a decisive 21-5 run — Cheeks chided referee Rodney Mott, “Hey, Rodney! Did you hear what that guy said?”

Mott just shook his head.

But in the postgame locker room, it was veteran guard Chauncey Billups — playing for the first time since Nov. 12 due to knee tendinitis — who was shaking his head.

Getting thumped by the Miami Heat at home on Sunday was one thing. But getting chased off their court by the Timberwolves was another.

“We contributed to it, man,” Billups said. “We gave away way too many layups early in the game. You want to take something from them. Either the 3 or the layup. We gave ’em both. Coming uncontested, coming down the lane, I mean, it was embarrassing, to be honest with you. But hopefully we can learn from that.”

Huffing and puffing won’t get the job done, though. It’s going to take more than that to defend themselves, even at home.

In the Pistons' 27-point defeat to the Timberwolves, veteran Chauncey Billups said, 'We gave away way too many layups early in the game.' / Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News
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