January 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Pistons once again are at a loss, and not just on the scoreboard

Auburn Hills — Maurice Cheeks didn’t want to call it a team meeting. Instead, he referred to a lengthy closed-door session with his players Sunday as “a little conversation.”

Call it what you want, but there was no arguing what it was that prompted the chat: It was an embarrassment.

The Pistons (14-20) didn’t just lose another game, their fifth in a row at home. They did it with a listless second-half effort that saw them turn a five-point halftime lead against the Memphis Grizzlies (15-18) into a 28-point deficit at the final buzzer.

You could quantify the loss in any number of derisory ways, but here’s one that should suffice. The Grizzlies could’ve gone scoreless in the fourth quarter and still matched the Pistons’ 28-point second-half total.

The end result was a 112-84 drubbing, and if you were looking for answers from Cheeks after it was over, well, so was he, which has to be a little disconcerting three months into the season. And especially after a five-day layoff that included three solid days of practice here at home.

Still, that’s what it sounded like, as Cheeks held a question-and-answer session with his players before holding his usual shrug-fest with the media.

“I wasn’t necessarily talking about what happened,” the coach explained. “I was just trying to get some insight for myself. Because I didn’t have the insight this time. Normally I do. This time I didn’t.”

If anybody gained some in the aftermath of this debacle, no one was really saying. Cheeks balked when I asked him that question. (“We’ll talk a little bit more tomorrow,” he said.) And Greg Monroe, who vowed to be a more vocal leader this season, said it was “something we kind of wanted to keep in-house, some things we discussed.”

But “it was definitely a dialogue,” he added.

And it was definitely needed, everyone seemed to agree.

“The way we’re going right now,” Monroe said, “sometimes you have to talk about stuff.”

They have to because this stuff is getting old in a hurry. The blown leads and the matador defense. The nonexistent ball movement and the head-shaking shot selection. The losses to sub-.500 teams, including this Grizzlies team that played without injured starters Marc Gasol and Tony Allen.

Too many questions

Everyone knows this remains a fundamentally flawed roster in Detroit, with a Big Three that has trouble playing together —time for another bailout? — and a dearth of perimeter shooting that only exacerbates that problem.

But that still doesn’t explain a defensive field-goal percentage that ranks third-worst in the league. (Jon Leuer tied a career high with 23 points in 21 minutes for Memphis, while Ed Davis added 17 – and 11 rebounds – in 17 minutes.)

Or a team that shoots 50 percent from the free-throw line for a game (10-for-20 Sunday) and an NBA-low 66 percent for the season. (And, no, I’m not sure what game Eddie Rush was watching Sunday, either.)

Or a team with one of the league’s biggest frontcourts getting outrebounded 59-43 for the game and 31-16 in the second half.

Or why the coach was laughing sarcastically at his own substitution problems after sitting Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler with four fouls for the final 7 minutes of the third quarter.

“I didn’t have a crystal ball,” Cheeks replied, when someone pointed out that probably wasn’t the best idea, since the deficit grew from two to 12 in their absence. “If I had a crystal ball I could probably foresee something happening.”

If he had a crystal ball, I wonder what he’d see happening next. Because while the Pistons are still clinging to the final playoff spot in the pathetic Eastern Conference, where only four teams actually can claim a winning record or a positive point differential, they certainly don’t look like a team on the rise.

'Emergency' situation

They’re headed out on the road for three games this week, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the Pistons are 6-12 at home this season and 1-7 at The Palace in the last month after finally getting back to .500. Then again, Detroit’s last two efforts on the road — back-to-back at Orlando and Washington last week — were nearly as awful as this.

Look, early-season growing pains were expected with a new coach and an overhauled roster, and a young one at that. But alarm bells to ring in the new year? That’s hardly music to anybody’s ears, especially when the owner — and a general manager with his own expiring contract — made it clear the mandate is to make the playoffs.

“It’s most definitely an emergency,” said point guard Brandon Jennings, who was 2-for-14 from the field and 0-for-6 from three-point range Sunday. “Because right now it’s really slipping away from us. And if we don’t become a better second-half team then we’re gonna lose a lot of games.”

And as for that postgame meeting, or conversation, or whatever it was?

“I think it’s more questioning if we’re all gonna sacrifice to do what it takes to win,” Jennings said. “I think that’s just what it is right now.”

Well, if that’s honestly the question at this point, good luck finding an answer.


Pistons' Kyle Singler has his shot blocked by the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph (Michigan State) in the fourth quarter, which summed up the slumping team's second half Sunday. / Clarence Tabb Jr / Detroit News
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