The Monday Drive made a pit stop in Toronto last week for All-Star weekend, but refuels and gets back on the grind this week, as the Pistons gear up for eight of the next 11 games on the road.
A couple of big trades last week brought in Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic, and Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton from the Houston Rockets. (The Pistons face a Monday 6 p.m. deadline to clear Motiejunas physically or that deal will be cancelled.)
As the season shifts into the final stretch of 26 games, here’s The Monday Drive, with 10 thoughts from the past week.
1. There’s still a chance the Pistons could void the trade with the Rockets for Motiejunas and Thornton, because of Motiejunas’ back issues. The Pistons knew he had surgery last season and they’re willing to take some risk, but there could be something in his medical history that’s giving them a new reason to rethink things. They requested the 24-hour extension to give their doctors more time to review. My gut says they go ahead with the trade, though I’m not a doctor, nor have I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express recently.
2. There’s still some hand-wringing about giving up a first-round draft pick for Motiejunas, but the Pistons likely don’t value the draft very much. From all indications, it will be a weak draft, and if the Pistons make the playoffs, they’d be picking in the 18-20 range anyway. They got much younger with the recent trades, so adding another guaranteed contract to an already youthful squad doesn’t help their short-term future. They could tweak the top-eight protection on the pick with the Rockets and still approve the trade.
3. That other trade has worked out for the Pistons. Tobias Harris has looked good in his first two games, with a team-high 21 points against the Wizards and 16 on Sunday versus the Pelicans. His defense on Anthony Davis was OK, but Davis simply was hitting some very difficult, contested shots — on Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes and anybody else the Pistons threw his way.
4. Speaking of Davis’ 59 points, it was something to behold. He was an efficient 71 percent (24-of-34) from the field and showed an array of moves, from the 3-point arc, midrange and inside. The Pistons’ defense did have some breakdowns, but Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace could have donned jerseys and may not have held Davis below 40. He was just that good.
5. Coach Stan Van Gundy missed the postgame press conference Friday after having a “wardrobe malfunction” following the game. Although it might have been fun to hear his comments following another poor defensive performance, it wasn’t the end of the world. Assistant Bob Beyer filled in admirably — without the sharp-tongued assessment. Van Gundy deserves a break for whatever the snafu was.
6. Between his core muscle injury and the All-Star break, the time off wasn’t good for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He’s looked out of sorts in his past two games back, going 1-of-11 against the Wizards and 4-of-15 (14 points) Sunday. His shot has been erratic at times this season, but his lack of timing and defense are better indicators that he’s going to need a few more games to get back to where he was before the injury.
7. If playing eight of the next 11 games on the road wasn’t tough enough, the Pistons are going to have to do it shorthanded. Anthony Tolliver (sprained right knee) didn’t travel to Cleveland with the team, meaning they’ll likely only have 10 available, pending the Motiejunas situation. Even still, they’ll have to play Morris and Harris at power forward and squeeze more minutes out of their rookies, Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard. Van Gundy is going to have to shuffle to make things work.
8. Steve Blake has been steady as the backup point guard, averaging 4.0 points and 4.0 assists and going 2-of-4 on 3-pointers in the last two games, since Brandon Jennings was traded Thursday. Those are around the numbers he’s averaged this season in 32 games, but he’ll have to readjust when the reserve unit gets back to normal.
9. Marcus Morris got a surprise when his twin brother Markieff was traded to the Wizards ahead of Thursday’s deadline. The Pistons swept both games from Markieff’s Suns, but fell to the Wizards Friday. Marcus guarded Markieff a couple times, created a turnover and defended him well. Marcus is struggling offensively out of the break, hitting just 5 of 19 field goals and totaling 11 points.
10. With their five-game skid, the Pistons have slid out of the playoff picture, 2.5 games behind the Bulls and Hornets, who are tied at No. 8 in the East. The Pistons still are a game ahead of the Wizards and two games ahead of the Magic, but there’s a gap developing at the eighth spot. The Raptors, at No. 2, are 4.5 games ahead of the Celtics. In short, the Pistons still can get as high the No. 3 spot, but will need to get on a roll.