Niyo: Pistons defenseless against Davis' 59

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — The Pistons’ most recent trade is on hold pending further evaluation.

So is Anthony Tolliver’s return from a knee injury suffered in Sunday’s ugly 111-106 loss to New Orleans.

And so are the Pistons’ playoff hopes, for that matter, given the uncertain status of the roster and the uneven play that has resulted in a season-worst five-game losing streak that’s now entering its third week.

All that was punctuated by a career-best performance from the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, who had 59 points and 20 rebounds and was so hot a couple of his teammates jokingly doused him with cups of water during a postgame interview on the court.

The 59 points were a franchise record. An arena record, too. And if this is starting to sound like a broken record to you — the Pistons looked out of sorts again Sunday, and seemed at a loss defensively for lengthy stretches of the game — you’re hardly alone.

“We have to be better — all of us, together,” said Tobias Harris, the Pistons’ newest member for now, at least until the team decides to sign off on last week’s other trade-deadline deal.

The Pistons asked and received a 24-hour extension Sunday as the team mulls the results of medical exams on Donatas Motiejunas, the 7-footer acquired along with guard Marcus Thornton from Houston on Thursday.

Motiejunas, coming off back surgery last year, has played in just 14 games this season — his last NBA game was Dec. 31 — and though he’d pronounced himself ready to return to the Rockets’ lineup during the All-Star break, there’s no telling when, or even if, he’ll suit up for the Pistons. The trade remains in limbo after the Pistons sent him to New York to see a specialist and then had him checked out by their own doctors in Detroit.

The Pistons now have until 6 tonight to sign off on the trade, according to Van Gundy, who didn’t rule out the possibility the deal could be voided.

Van Gundy takes blame

There was no voiding Sunday’s result, though, and rather than ripping his team, the Pistons coach ripped himself for the effort against Davis, who finished 24-of-34 from the field to post the NBA’s single-game high for the season and the best ever at the Palace, topping LeBron James’ 48-point outburst in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Davis had 51 points in the final three quarters alone, and later shrugged, “After a while, you feel like any shot you put up is going to go in.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy insisted. “You’ve got to come up with something. A guy can’t get 59. That’s terrible coaching. Terrible.”

Whomever you want to pin it on, the Pistons have now lost eight of their last 10 games to fall two games below .500 for the first time all season — and two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

And before you blame this latest skid solely on new faces and changing roles, remember the Pistons are 5-11 since that roof-rattling win over Golden State in mid-January.

They’re 6-13 in the last six weeks, with a road game at Cleveland on tap.

That might explain why Van Gundy had little interest Sunday in talking about the pending trade or the depleted lineup or the possibility changing roles might have something to do with his team’s disjointed performance at both ends of the floor.

Struggling starters

Davis lighting up The Palace scoreboard certainly wasn’t the only issue Sunday. Marcus Morris, whose duties were altered the most by the trade with Orlando for Harris, finished with a season-low two points in 34 minutes. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — coming off a core-muscle injury — are a combined 10-for-45 from the field in the two games since the All-Star break.

“Why would the trade set it back?” Van Gundy countered, when asked about Morris. “He’s struggling. I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket. No excuses, though.”

But answers? We’ll see, especially now that Tolliver’s status is in limbo as well. In his second game as a starter following the trades — a place-holder for Harris as he gets adjusted to his new team — he limped off the court following a collision with Andre Drummond in the first half Sunday. Tolliver was headed for an MRI after the game, another troubling sight for a team that’s headed the wrong direction in the standings.

“I think everybody’s frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody likes to lose. Of course everybody’s frustrated. We’ve just got to keep playing through stuff.”

They’ll have to do more than that, actually, otherwise stuff like this will keep happening. And the playoffs won't.