Salt Lake City, Utah — The news from the medical staff could have been worse, so the Pistons were fortunate in some regard. But they’re still without two of their starters.
After having an MRI Friday morning, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was diagnosed with a Grade-2 left rotator cuff strain. He left Thursday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors four minutes into the first quarter after suffering a shoulder injury after going running through a pick.
Caldwell-Pope missed Friday’s game against the Utah Jazz and is doubtful for Sunday’s contest against the Los Angeles Lakers. Caldwell-Pope will be re-evaluated and his status updated next week, when the Pistons return home and host the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday and the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
It’s the second shoulder injury this month for Caldwell-Pope, who also banged the shoulder during a game against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 5.
The news that the shoulder doesn’t require surgery is encouraging for the Pistons, who already were without Reggie Bullock (personal leave), Michael Gbinije (forearm bruise) and Jon Leuer (knee bruise). Bullock was recovering from a meniscus tear and was nearing a return after the road trip, but that could be accelerated with the injuries.
Caldwell-Pope, 23, is having the best season of his four-year career, posting highs of 14.5 points and three assists per game and shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers. He’s the Pistons’ best defender, which is where an extended absence could hurt the most.
“Any time we lose Pope, it’s a tough loss. He’s a competitor and stretches the floor for us; he’s generally defending the best guard,” point guard Reggie Jackson said Thursday night. “He’s the aggressor on defense and we ask him to do a lot.
“That’s my man, so watching him hurt bringing the ball up the court was tough. Just hoping for the best and seeing him have to walk out to the back, that hurt the team and me personally.”
With Caldwell-Pope out, coach Stan Van Gundy likely will move Stanley Johnson to the starting role, with Darrun Hilliard playing the backup role. If Caldwell-Pope is out for an extended period, the Pistons could look to make a move ahead of the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
Boban Marjanovic has made the most of his opportunity to play, following Aron Baynes’ ankle sprain, and is parlaying that into a short-term backup role.
Against the Warriors on Thursday, Marjanovic contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds and was active, as he was in his 15-point, 19-rebound performance in the win over the Hornets last week.
“I like what Boban’s been doing, so I’m going to stick with him for a little bit,” Van Gundy said.
The difference for Marjanovic is that he’s worked on his lateral movement and quickness and has improved enough that he’s not a liability on the defensive end.
“He just got an opportunity. What he’s shown are the things we thought he could do; we’ve given him more of an opportunity and he’s made the most of it,” Van Gundy said. “We’ll look for more opportunities to play him.”
Van Gundy has been hesitant to play Marjanovic big minutes or against smaller, perimeter-shooting big men. That was on display against the Warriors, and Marjanovic had some difficulty with staying focused on the defensive principles.
Pistons icon Isiah Thomas will return to The Palace as part of the Pistons’ “Best-of-Seven” series of games when the Pistons face the Lakers on Feb. 8.
Thomas will share some of his memories of the rivalry against the Lakers and about the back-to-back championship seasons in 1989 and ’90 during a special halftime ceremony. The first 10,000 fans will get a Thomas mini jersey.
Fans are encouraged to share their favorite memories via Twitter and facebook.com/detroitpistons with the #DetroitBasketball hashtag.