Meeks makes his mark in regular-season Pistons debut

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News
Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris (11) fouls Detroit Pistons' Jodie Meeks, middle, as Suns' Goran Dragic, right, defends during the second half. Meeks finished with 12 points in his first regular season game with the Pistons.

Phoenix — It's not quite a first date but Jodie Meeks confessed to having some definite opening-night jitters, before the guard made his Pistons debut in Phoenix Friday night.

After playing just one preseason game, Meeks suffered a back injury that cost him crucial time, delaying Stan Van Gundy's most prized free-agent acquisition.

"A little butterflies so it's normal," Meeks said. "I haven't played in a while so I'm interested to see what happens. Get out there with my teammates."

If those butterflies were churning before the game, he silenced them — and the raucous U.S. Airways Center crowd with ice-cold free throws with 8.9 seconds left, doing his part in helping the Pistons end their 13-game losing streak in a 105-103 win.

"I didn't get back gently, being put in a pressure situation," Meeks said. "But I was calm up there, with a lot of confidence. Shot them and shot them easy."

It was the last of Meeks' 12 points, and although they were the most stressful, they weren't the most telling as Pistons fans began to get a glimpse of what things could be like if and when Meeks gets a rhythm.

He came off a curl screen once, hitting a floater, and another time he tricked a defender away from the ball into thinking he would run off another curl but faded back to the corner for an open jumper, his foot on the 3-point line.

Meeks also fed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the corner for a 3-pointer with a minute remaining and the game tied, marking the first time — but certainly not the last the duo will be on the floor in crucial moments.

"It'll take us some time to build a package, but we've been saying he's a guy we can run offense through," Van Gundy said. "He gives us a chance to make some plays. He reads defenses really well."

Playing 22 minutes, he seemed to hold up well as Monday was the eight-week mark of the diagnosis of a stress reaction in his lower back. Meeks, despite the time away, was perpetually moving without the ball, adding a much-needed dimension to a stagnant offense.

"I felt pretty good," Meeks said. "I'm not in the shape I'd like to be. Considering I've been out two months it wasn't too bad. The most important thing was the win."

Meeks came off the bench Friday late in the first quarter, and there's certainly not a plan in place about whether he'll start — but considering how anemic the Pistons are from the swingman spots, there wouldn't be any real objection if Meeks played well enough to warrant increased responsibilities.

"I'm anxious for sure. Try to get a shot up (early), maybe," said Meeks before the game. "I've never been a player to force something. If it's open take it. If not, then move the ball."

"I don't know how I'll be. The easy thing is to play freely and let the game come to you, but at the same time take what the defenses give you. I'm not a selfish player, so I'll go out there and play hard, see what happens."

Van Gundy said there isn't a minute restriction on Meeks, while Meeks said there would be for the foreseeable future.

"We'll just see how it goes. Nobody's given me any restrictions," Van Gundy said. "He's not ready to play 40 minutes, so we'll just see how it goes. He'll come off the bench and we'll see how he looks."

With Meeks only practicing with the team for eight days, counting training camp, the Pistons had to keep things simple in in their offensive sets — which could be helpful for a young team.

"It's pretty good," said Meeks of his basic knowledge of the offense. "I understand most of the sets, I think it'll be a little limited. So it'll be different when you get to a game-time decisions, but I'm just looking forward to getting out there, man."

No rest for the bad

Bad teams get the bad end of NBA scheduling, so the Pistons' league-high 22 back-to-back games has Van Gundy a little sour. The Pistons don't have any games on Thursday nights, the league-mandated day where only a handful of teams play for the TNT audience, so it forces them to fit their games into six days of the week, as opposed to seven.

Van Gundy wouldn't mind a shorter preseason, to stretch the regular-season games out by an extra week or two to give teams extra time to rest, recover and prepare.

"I wouldn't have a problem with cutting time in the preseason," he said. "Anything they can do to reduce the back-to-backs some teams have. I'd like to see them reduce the back-to-backs and even it out."

"Everybody knows the team on the second of a back-to-back has a competitive disadvantage. And yet the number of back-to-backs people play is nowhere near equal. I think those are the two things I'd like to see."

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Pistons at Kings

Tip-off: 10 p.m. Saturday, Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, Calif.

TV/radio: FSD/105.1

Outlook: Detroit's lone Western Conference win on the road last season came against Sacramento. ... Former Michigan G Nik Stauskas, a first-round pick for the Kings, is averaging 14 minutes per game.