Pistons try to break through road block

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Boston — At first glance, it’s easy to conclude that the road hasn’t been kind to the Pistons this season.

Their road record was 7-11 heading into Wednesday’s matchup at Boston, and they’ve lost three straight away from The Palace. That’s a stark turnaround from the beginning of the season, when they won their first three, notching maybe their best road win (at Atlanta) in the opener.

Their ability to win at home is keeping the Pistons in the playoff race, but they’ll have to get some more road wins if they’re going to stay in contention. With a slew of games against other postseason candidates, it’s high time they started to get some of those needed wins.

For coach Stan Van Gundy, it’s a familiar formula that leads to road success.

“The whole thing on the road is your team has to be built around some really solid things that you can count on night in and night out: defense, rebounding, taking care of the basketball,” he said. “That’s three areas we’ve been pretty good in overall.”

Indeed, the Pistons are eighth in defensive rating (100.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), second in rebounding (47.7) and second in turnover percentage (12.3).

Aside from numbers, though, Van Gundy wants to see a strong, tangible effort in the early stages of games. In any game, it’s difficult to dig out of an early hole and win, but on the road, it’s even harder.

Although the Pistons boast some good wins on their early-season resume — including Phoenix, Portland, Miami and Chicago — they’ve also had their share of stinkers. They finished the West Coast trip with inexplicable losses at Sacramento and a pair of clunkers to the Clippers and Lakers. More recently, they’ve played poorly at Charlotte and New York.

It’s a head-scratching proposition for Van Gundy, who is just looking to get good efforts in the first halves to set up a manageable second half.

“Our approach has been inconsistent throughout the year, but even more so on the road,” Van Gundy said. “In Indiana, we were really ready to play and had a great approach. In New York, we had a poor approach. In Atlanta, we had a poor approach the second time, good the first.

“It’s really understanding that you’re going to have to be on it for 48 minutes and play really, really hard — defend, rebound and take care of the ball. If we do those things, we’ll have a chance.”

It’s just those fundamentals that have Van Gundy looking to get better production on the road and bring some balance to the home record. Seven of the road losses have been by double digits, and a couple of the closer losses and wins have been after overcoming a double-digit deficit.

“When we haven’t been good and we’ve turned the ball over — whether home or away — we’ve had miserable games,” Van Gundy said. “If you do those three things, you at least give yourself a chance to win.”

Among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons have the worst road record. Along with the Pistons, only two other teams have a losing record: the Chicago Bulls (6-7) and the Indiana Pacers (7-10). None of the teams below the Pistons — who are in the eighth spot — have a winning road record.

The Celtics have the best road record in the East, at 10-6, so the line of excellence isn’t far away. Even a modest road win streak can get the Pistons near where they need to be.

But if the Pistons are going to make the playoffs, cleaning up the road mark will be the easiest way to get there.

Bumpy road

Some of the Pistons’ biggest losses have come away from The Palace, including seven by double digits.

Nov. 9: Golden State, 109-95

Nov. 15: L.A. Lakers, 97-85

Nov. 23: Milwaukee, 109-88

Nov. 27: Oklahoma City, 103-87

Dec. 7: Charlotte, 104-84

Dec. 29: New York, 108-96

Jan. 2: Indiana, 94-82