Beard: Topsy-turvy Pistons providing thrill ride
The Pistons are like a box of chocolates. Nah, too cliché.
The Pistons are like a blank canvas. Nah, too vague.
The Pistons are a roller coaster. That’s a bit closer — and it’s completely true.
Through the first 30 games, they’ve had their ups and downs, but their seven-game losing streak — the big ascension and momentous drop early in the ride — is behind them now. That early summit included a 14-6 start and plenty of screams from coach Stan Van Gundy along the way, but it’s what precedes any good ride.
Since their early skid, the Pistons (17-13) have hit a smooth patch with three straight wins and appear to be getting settled in. Entering Monday’s games, the Pistons were sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and there were six teams in the entire league with better records.
Of their 17 wins, nine have come against teams with at .500 or above; their 13 losses include just one — at the Lakers — to a team with a losing record. Among the top seven teams, only the Raptors have as few as one.
The takeaway there, the Pistons generally beat the bad teams and are 9-12 against good teams.
That’s a roller coaster, but it’s also one sign of a good team.
How good? That’s yet to be seen.
To his credit, Van Gundy isn’t just settling for victories; he knows some of the winning is just luck and if the Pistons are going to get to the playoffs and make any noise — beyond a thanks-for-coming first-round sweep, they have to be more consistent.
“I understand the sentiment that it’s all about the win and you got the win, but that’s not what it’s all about,” Van Gundy said Sunday. “It’s about what you bring to the game, how you play, the effort you bring, the unselfishness you bring — and then the results take care of themselves.”
After 30 games, it’s still hard to get a grasp of what the Pistons are. The starters play hard, then the next game, they don’t. The reserves save the lead one night, then give up a big run just as quickly.
Buckle up if you’re trying to get to love these Pistons, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
On a week-to-week basis, their bandwagon resembles the lower bowl at Little Caesars Arena: mostly empty, only to find out that many were watching from afar, but leaving folks wondering whether the fans are just in the club, schmoozing and waiting for the good part still to come.
A couple of things have come to the forefront:
■ It’s not the same Andre Drummond. He’s getting very flirtatious with triple-doubles — and getting (phone) numbers. His passing skills are helping spread the ball around and he’s improved as a player himself. Some will say that Joel Embiid is a better all-around player, but the best ability is availability and Drummond has missed just one game each of the past two seasons — and just three total since his rookie season in 2012-13.
■The Pistons don’t keep leads. After they blew a 22-point advantage against the Indiana Pacers last month, Van Gundy remarked that it’s a new NBA and it’s tougher to maintain a double-digit advantage. It’s happened all over the league and it happened to the Pistons again Sunday against the Orlando Magic, giving up a 19-0 run and having to hold on in the final minutes. Even the games that are in the bag somehow find a way to slither out and make things interesting.
■This reserve unit is good. Not every team can say that; actually, very few teams can. If Stanley Johnson ends up being a reserve — which seems to be the best fit, at least for right now — and not a starter, that’s still fine. Johnson needs touches, which he can get off the bench, and he seems to meld better with a mix of starters and reserves. Reggie Bullock continues to contribute the way he has the last four games, a welcome curve on the ride, after he was saddled to the bench for the first quarter of the season.
■What you see might not be what you get. Van Gundy half-jokingly said last week that he could be thinking about some trades. Only half-jokingly. There’s no sure-fire move that would turbo-boost the Pistons past the Raptors, Cavaliers or Celtics into the East’s elite. Already, they’re four games behind Toronto (20-8) with a growing gap. If they can maintain the No. 4 spot, that’s about where most experts had them projected.
The Pistons have played 21 of their 30 games against the top half of the NBA. The final 52 will have a good share of teams against the other half. If the Pistons handle their business, they can punch a ticket and try to get their first win in a playoff game in more than a decade.
That sounds odd, but there’s no cutting to the front of the line to NBA relevance.
It’s just a roller coaster, but to make it more fun, bring a pocket full of chocolates.