Beard: Pistons need to lock it down to save season

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic drives to the basket against Detroit Pistons center Aron Baynes during the second half.

It’s been a recurring scene this season, as coach Stan Van Gundy has tried to explain why his team lost.

Sometimes, the reason is shots not falling.

In others, it’s simply a better game from the opposition.

Saturday night’s 116-103 loss at Miami was the all-too-frequent combination of both factors.

The Pistons (21-26) lost their second straight game to a sub-.500 team and are leaving many wondering which the anomaly is: last season’s surprising trip to the playoffs or the team that is struggling to stay at .500 itself this season.

Yet again, defense was the bugaboo, as the Pistons weren’t able to stop the dribble penetration by the Heat (18-30) — who have a seven-game win streak, the longest in the NBA — with Goran Dragic scoring 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting and Dion Waiters (17 points) connecting on 6-of-9 inside the arc. Wayne Ellington (19 points) went 5-of-7 beyond the arc, helping the Heat tie their season high with 14 3-pointers.

Second-half fade scorches Pistons in loss to Heat

The Pistons scored 33 points in the first quarter — and still trailed by two — and they led, 91-90, heading into the fourth period, but sputtered offensively, managing just 12 points the rest of the way.

It’s emblematic of the up-and-down, Jekyll-and-Hyde season the Pistons have put together, trying to persevere through injuries to Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and others.

It’s a season wrought with head-scratching losses to teams such as the Sacramento Kings on Monday and the Heat Saturday, on the heels of wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards the previous week. The Pistons have beaten the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics, but also fell to the Philadelphia 76ers, woeful Brooklyn Nets and the Orlando Magic.

And now, time is running out.

Deal-day looms

They have 10 games remaining before the Feb. 23 trade deadline — likely when Van Gundy, who also wears the hat as team president — will have to make a decision about whether to make moves or stand pat. It’s still a tricky proposition, given that the Pistons have only had the last two games with a full complement of players. That’s not enough to make an informed decision, but if the Pistons fall too much further, the decision likely will be clear.

It’ll be muddled by the fact that they’re still only 1½ games out of the No. 8 spot and have more home games than on the road and that 10-game stretch includes only four games against teams with winning records.

Van Gundy tends to rely more on the eye test and how the team is playing than simply results. But what’s clear is that they’re not the same team on the court that they were last season. Most of the players are the same, so it seems logical that they’d at least be near the same.

But in his postgame comments on Fox Sports Detroit, Van Gundy wondered aloud whether teams had figured the Pistons out defensively and whether using Reggie Jackson in the pick-and-roll down the stretch was just too limiting. He’s looking into getting more players involved in the fourth quarter but that’s just addressing one of the issues.

The defense lapses way too much and teams are having their way with getting in the paint and picking apart the interior. The Heat managed only 40 points in the paint, but paired with 14-of-28 on 3-pointers, it’s clear they’re just making the Pistons pick their poison defensively — and the shots are falling.

It’s a recurring theme this season and it’ll continue unless the Pistons make a concerted effort to improve their team defense — and maybe save their season, before it’s too late.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard