Pistons get back on track, put away Nets

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Fans witnessed a "State of the Eastern Conference" game Saturday night at The Palace, where teams with losing records played an important game. It was also kind of a bad game as both teams missed open jumpers and played as if they were wearing lead boots.

The Pistons (13-24) moved to within 2½ games of the final playoff spot and are now just 3½ games out of the seventh spot held by Brooklyn following a 98-93 victory against the Nets. It was a battle of bad versus bad, but at least the Pistons are surging. They won their eighth in the past nine games while the Nets (16-21) dropped their fifth straight.

Both coaches know their teams are in need of more wins. That is why Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and Nets coach Lionel Hollins did not mark this as a red-letter game. Both coaches simply wanted to see their teams play better heading into the game.

They still are seeking that after this stinker, though Van Gundy walked out a little happier.

The Pistons played their fourth game in five nights while Brooklyn played its sixth in eight nights. It often became a game of survival.

"I think you've got to keep battling defensively and hope you get a spurt at some point," Van Gundy said. "Really that is what it came down to. What team was going to get a spurt? It gave us a bit of a cushion."

Defense might have won it for the Pistons but Kyle Singler said seeing the ball finally go through the hoop at the end gave him extra energy.

"Playing good offense and scoring kind of gets you going, but making good plays in general makes a difference," he said.

Van Gundy told his team before the game to not settle and to do everything it can to get on the winning track. He did not want bad habits to settle in again because sometimes it is tough to break them.

"We definitely knew we had to bounce back from (Friday night's 106-103 loss to the Hawks) following the seven-game win streak," Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings said. "There were definitely some heads that were down because we wanted to win. You want to keep it rolling. It was about keeping a positive energy and keep it going."

It was a frustrating night for Van Gundy because his team looked sluggish. The Nets did, too, which might be because both teams played the night before. Or maybe these are two teams competing for the playoffs in a bad division.

"Act like you want to win," Van Gundy screamed to his team during the game.

Neither team rocked it defensively until the Pistons turned up the heat at the end. It's just that teams missed open shots. It was one of those nights where players didn't have enough lift on their shots. As a result, the Pistons shot 42.5 percent for the game and the Nets just 42 percent.

The Pistons placed five players in double figures led by Jennings with 20 points and 11 assists. Andre Drummond shook off a cold that got him benched during Friday's 106-103 loss to Atlanta and recorded 14 points and nine rebounds. Greg Monroe had 16 points and 17 rebounds.

Joe Johnson led the Nets with 17 points.

The Pistons never led by more than seven points until the final moments of the game and Brooklyn's biggest lead was three.

The game was tied 47-47 at the half and the Pistons took a 74-69 lead into the fourth on a Drummond dunk before the buzzer.

The Pistons broke open a close two-point game on fast break buckets by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jennings. Later Jennings busted open the game with a three-point game to give the Pistons an 91-84 lead. Monroe put the icing on the cake with a reverse layup giving the Pistons a 93-84 lead with 1:55 remaining.

It was a struggle because of tired legs but the Pistons had just a little more steam at the end.

"We did not want to lose focus," Monroe said. "We had been doing a lot of good things on that seven-game streak. We kind of got away from it. That is why (Van Gundy) wanted us to get back to the things and I think we did a good job of getting back to things toward what we had been doing."