The Monday Drive: Pistons miss Caldwell-Pope

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Pistons had another mediocre week, splitting their four games, with predictable wins over the two teams with losing records (the Nets and Knicks) and falling to the playoff contenders (the Celtics and Pacers). They’re still in the No. 8 spot in the East standings, looking to head into the All-Star break with some momentum.

Here are this week’s 10 thoughts for the Monday Drive.

1. Following practice on Sunday, Andre Drummond was working with assistant coach Malik Allen on free throws. The focus seemed to be on keeping all parts of his body aligned and following through on the shot. The result: Drummond made four of his next five attempts. Of course, there weren’t 17,000 other spectators, but anything that can help fix some of the in-game mechanics is a step in the right direction.

2. Drummond will participate in the All-Star dunk contest on Saturday at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I asked about whether he was trying anything unusual and he played coy, with a wry smile and replied, “You’ll see.” Many of Drummond’s dunks this season have been off alley-oops, including a highlight-reel pass off the backboard from Brandon Jennings last week. What he can come up with on his own will be interesting to see.

3. Although many Pistons will be looking to get away and relax for the All-Star break, Reggie Jackson will be in Toronto, cheering for Drummond during the weekend festivities. After battling through dehydration, a jammed thumb and a knee bruise, Jackson can use the break as well. It’s Jackson’s first full season as a starter and he’ll need to recharge for the stretch run if the Pistons are going to make a charge toward the playoffs.

4. The Pistons clearly aren’t the same without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (core muscle strain), who has missed the last two games. Their best perimeter defender also has been one of their unsung heroes. Losing Caldwell-Pope doesn’t necessarily mean the Pistons will make a trade to try to fill the gap, but they’ll have to rely on a pair of rookies to try to fill in until Caldwell-Pope can return.

5. Rookie Stanley Johnson has started the last two games for Caldwell-Pope and is averaging 18 points, including a career-best 22 points against the Knicks on Thursday. He’s thriving with more minutes, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll continue. In 44 minutes, Johnson was good, but he’ll have to carry that for at least the next two games. He hasn’t shown signs of wearing down, but it’s worth watching to see whether he’ll approach that rookie wall.

6. It’s just one play, but rookie Darrun Hilliard is showing flashes that he can make some plays when called upon. Hilliard took a pass in the right corner, drove the baseline, passed out and ran to the left corner, where he hit a 3-pointer. Hilliard had season highs of 21 minutes and nine points in Saturday’s loss to the Pacers, including a pair of 3-pointers. Although his defense still needs some work, he might be able to plug the gap left by the injury losses in the backcourt.

7. After a decent start, the Pistons have struggled on the road, posting an 11-17 record away from The Palace. That’s the worst road record of any of top eight teams in the Eastern Conference. They aren’t helping themselves in the standings, either, with a 1-8 mark in their last nine games — the only win came at Boston — against the current top eight teams in the East.

8. While the Pistons were expecting to get Jodie Meeks back in the next week or so, the news that his fractured toe isn’t healing properly is a blow. It means that Hilliard will get more playing time and that Meeks likely will see little significant action — if any at all — this season. Meeks is shut down until at least March 1 and he’ll be reassessed to see if the healing is on track.

9. Marcus Morris has accumulated 10 technical fouls this season, for a total of $25,000. Each tech will now be $4,000 and he’ll face a one-game suspension beginning with the 16th and every other one after that (18th, 20th, etc.). Morris is tied with the Warriors’ Draymond Green (Michigan State) and the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins for second in the league in technical fouls behind the Rockets’ Dwight Howard, who has 11.

10. Wednesday provides another reunion opportunity, as the Pistons retire Chauncey Billups’ No. 1 and raise it to the rafters at The Palace. Ben Wallace’s jersey retirement was a special occasion and Billups will be a welcome reprise. How many others from the “Goin’ to Work” championship team will have their numbers retired? Rasheed Wallace? Rip Hamilton? Tayshaun Prince? Where does the organization draw the line on that?