Beard: Pistons’ trip sketchy, but no disaster

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Denver — Following Saturday’s 106-95 win over the Nuggets, the Pistons’ locker room was more vibrant. Wins will bring smiles. Road wins will bring laughs. Road wins that end five-game skids will salve many ails.

The Pistons got their second wire-to-wire win over Denver in a week, a welcome end to a four-game western road trip where that ended up being the only triumph. It’s a step forward after an embarrassing loss to the Clippers and one they let get away against the Suns. If a few more shots fell against the Spurs, they would have had a chance to get a four-game split.

“Everybody in this locker room was focused and locked in, and our main goal was to get this win and we accomplished it,” Tobias Harris said Saturday. “It’s not the road trip we wanted, but to end it on a good note and go back home, we learned a lot.

“It was good to gain something from it and know what we have to do to be better.”

At 5-5, the Pistons are where they need to be — while they go through a tough stretch of their schedule, and until Reggie Jackson returns from his tendinitis issues in another couple weeks.

The week ahead has its own challenges, with games against the Thunder (today), at the Knicks (Wednesday) and at the Cavaliers (Friday). Getting even two of those games would be a good bounceback from the disappointing road trip.

After a week out west, The Monday Drive returns with some frequent-flyer miles and observations from the trip:

1. Ish-ful thinking: Ish Smith has been good in stretches, but the disparity between Smith’s game and Jackson’s is becoming more apparent. Teams aren’t respecting the pick-and-roll and Smith struggled with his shot the first two games of the trip. The offense will perk up when Jackson returns, but it may struggle until then.

2. Forward progress: While forwards Harris and Marcus Morris have been the go-to scorers, Jon Leuer has shined, with 14 points and 10 rebounds, the first double-double by a Pistons reserve since January. He’s not shown the 3-point accuracy (29 percent), but he’s providing more with his inside and rebounding presence.

3. Drummond at the line: Remember when everyone was worried about Andre Drummond’s free throws? He made a big step forward on the road trip, going 10-of-16 (63 percent). It’s still a work in progress, but the early signs are good, with his season numbers rising to 53 percent.

4. More of Drummond: His other numbers for the trip were pretty good as well: 16.8 points, 13.8 rebounds, 64 percent on field goals — and one desperation, step-back 3-pointer against the Spurs. Consistency and effort on both ends are still works in progress, but seeing that production on the road is a step forward.

5. KCP factor: Although his scoring is down a touch (12.9 points), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope still remains a key. Of note, his 3-point shooting is up to 37 percent, but he’s still playing the same dogged perimeter defense and had seven assists against the Spurs.

6. Reggie’s recovery: Jackson is doing non-contact individual work, which includes some shooting, light running and exercise to increase his wind. He likely will return after Thanksgiving, but he said pain isn’t as much an issue as getting back to trusting his knee on cuts and jumps around the court.

7. Talking politics: Van Gundy drew fan ire for his comments on Donald Trump last week. Most of the e-mail I received retorted that he should stay out of politics and focus on wins. Championship coaches Steve Kerr (Warriors) and Gregg Popovich (Spurs) also had some choice words about Trump — should they also only focus on getting their teams more wins? Three words: freedom of speech.

8. Early overreactions: What’s going on with the Celtics (5-4) and Pacers (4-6)? Many thought they’d be norming to their new additions, but they’ve had some speedbumps early. The Celtics’ toughness is in question and the porous defense is allowing 108.3 points. The Pacers have lost to both the 76ers and Nets. Yikes.

9. How about those Clippers? They’ve won six straight and no matter what the commercial says, there are at least two good Clippers. Their only stumble is a two-point loss against the Thunder. At 9-1, they’ve been blowing teams out, with only one single-digit win, avenging that loss to the Thunder.

10. Northern candidate: While LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are clear MVP candidates, add another name: Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan. They’re 7-2 ahd he’s putting up gaudy numbers early: 34 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists and hitting a career-best 53 percent from the field.