Niyo: Sunday's performance compounds Pistons' woes

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Stan Van Gundy spent the better part of two hours Sunday night with his arms folded in disgust.

This is a familiar pose for the Pistons' boss, one he has perfected — arms high, brow furrowed, mouth agape — over the course of a coaching career that spans three-plus decades.

But that does not mean it's a comfortable one.

So when he'd finally seen enough Sunday — more than enough, clearly — Van Gundy simply threw his hands in the air. Like his team just didn't care.

Ostensibly, he was barking at the officials for missing a 3-second call in the lane, drawing a technical foul as he did. But mostly, he was venting his frustration — a spring-loaded release of tension — in the midst of an embarrassing 112-101 loss to the Timberwolves.

It was one of those nights for the Pistons at The Palace. One of those postgame sessions, too, for Van Gundy, who is as tired of talking about his team's shoddy defense as he is of watching it. Sunday, he might've finally reached a breaking point.

"Not one positive in that game," Van Gundy said, snapping off the first terse reply in a press conference that lasted all of 75 seconds. "Not one."

Lack of effort

Hard to argue that assessment, obviously, after a loss to a team that entered Sunday's game with just 10 wins in 50 games.

The Timberwolves were only a half-game better than the Knicks, who own the worst record in the NBA. They were 4-21 on the road.

And yet Minnesota, playing without lead guard Ricky Rubio, never trailed Sunday night, building an early double-digit lead that grew as large as 19 at one point in the third quarter. Afterward, Flip Saunders, the former Pistons coach and current Timberwolves president who couldn't find anybody else to coach his team this season, said, "We were scoring so easy, our guys thought we could just play."

They could, but only because the Pistons seemed content to let them, a defensive stance that has become painfully routine.

For all the talk about a reversal of fortunes this winter, the Pistons have now dropped six of their last nine games, allowing an average of 105.5 points in those half-dozen losses. After Wednesday's lackluster performance in a 114-109 defeat at Indiana, Van Gundy called the defensive effort "terrible" and said his team offered "virtually no resistance whatsoever."

After Sunday's loss, he took it a step further, saying, "If you couldn't score that against that defense, (you) wouldn't be an NBA team. Anybody would put up those numbers against that defense."

Indeed, the Timberwolves scored on their first nine possessions Sunday and shot 63.6 percent from the field in the first quarter. That the Pistons only trailed by 10 at halftime was thanks mostly to their 8-of-15 shooting from three-point range. And not surprisingly, Van Gundy, whose team went cold from deep in the second half, found that particularly galling.

"We didn't come ready to play at all," he said. "And we've got no commitment to the defensive end of the floor."

Greg Monroe, one of the team leaders, echoed those sentiments a short while later, shaking his head as he talked about the Pistons stunning reluctance to take things "seriously." He wasn't singling anyone out publicly, and when I asked Van Gundy to whom he'll turn to find that commitment, he replied, "I have absolutely no idea. It's gotta be all of 'em."

Still, there's no hiding the fact the Pistons need a more consistent effort from Pistons center Andre Drummond.

Drummond got in early foul trouble again, and though he finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes before fouling out, it was more than offset by the 29-point night from Nikola Pekovic of the Timberwolves.

"I mean, when it comes to defense, it's just about taking it serious, at this point," Monroe continued. "It's one thing when teams are running things and we're confused. I don't think that's the problem. …

"We just have to take it seriously. We have to lock in. And it has to mean a lot more to us."

Bad loss

In the middle of a six-game, nine-day stretch before the All-Star break, this was a crushing loss for the Pistons. And it goes beyond that ugly losing streak to the Timberwolves – now 10 games and counting, which sounds as bad as it is.

Minnesota hasn't made the playoffs since 2004 — the longest current drought in the NBA. And yet the Pistons haven't beaten the Timberwolves since the final game of the 2009-10, a season that began their own run of misery. Only Minnesota and Sacramento (eight) have longer playoff absences than the Pistons, who are still clinging to hopes that they'll end theirs this spring in a dreary Eastern Conference.

A loss like this doesn't end that possibility: The Pistons are 12 games under .500, but they remain two games out of the eighth spot in the East, with a game Tuesday at seventh-place Charlotte.

But efforts like this surely will.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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