Pistons’ Bullock readjusts after extended absence

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Detroit Pistons forward Reggie Bullock gets past Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black during the first half Sunday night.

Los Angeles — It didn’t take long for Reggie Bullock to get back into a basketball frame of mind.

That’s because he didn’t have very much time to get his mind right. A whirlwind couple of days culminated in Bullock getting back into the Pistons’ lineup for the first time since suffering a meniscus tear on Nov. 23.

After weeks of recovery, he had personal issues to deal with, as the man accused of murdering his transgender sister, Mia Henderson, was acquitted on Thursday. Bullock took some excused time away from the team to be with his family in North Carolina.

He was nearing a return to the court, but wanted to get more practice time in before getting back into a game. Then starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope suffered a shoulder injury, leaving a void that Bullock could fill.

After he arrived in Salt Lake City for Friday’s game against the Jazz, the team trainers put Bullock through the paces of running stairs, lifting weights and other cardio to get him prepared to play.

“It was an opportunity to get some minutes. Our best shooting guard is out and we have some people coach can put in the rotation,” Bullock said Friday. “He’s down so it’s an opportunity for me to get more minutes. Next man up.”

Bullock responded with seven points and three assists in 26 minutes in the loss. But coach Stan Van Gundy was happy with the production, as it’s just the first step in the progression. Bullock was slated to move to the starting lineup for Sunday’s game against the Lakers.

“He did fine. I was happy because we haven’t had a lot of practice time,” Van Gundy said following Sunday morning’s shootaround at Staples Center. “Getting him that game time was good and he’ll get more tonight; it’ll accelerate him getting back.”

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That doesn’t mean it was easy. From a physical standpoint, it was somewhat a smooth transition back, with some getting used to the up-and-down and readjusting to getting a rhythm on defense.

But mentally, getting over the trial and then traveling and getting into the right mindset was a bit harder. It’s part of the job, though — and for Bullock, basketball became something of an escape from the emotional turmoil.

Basketball, though, didn’t dull all the sting of the loss of his sister, nor the heart-tugging of a trial that reopened the old emotional wounds and a verdict that did anything but soothe the scab.

“Going through something so tragic like that and allowing a guy to get off the hook for something like that,” Bullock said. “It’s tough to deal with emotionally but at the same time, I want to go out there and play for my sister and try to help my team also.”

Injuries aside, Bullock has an opportunity to step into a bigger role, with neither Stanley Johnson nor Darrun Hilliard staking a claim to the position as backup shooting guard. Van Gundy has gone back and forth in recent weeks in trying to find better offense (Hilliard) or defense (Johnson) but neither has been able to deliver on both ends.

Bullock looked a step slow and had his hands full with Utah’s Rodney Hood, who had a season-high 27 points, but as he gets his wind back, Bullock could get more chances to get heavy minutes, at least until Caldwell-Pope is able to return healthy.

“Offensively, he was good moving without the ball, got a couple cuts, knows how to play and helps us there,” Van Gundy said. “Defensively, he had several good plays; he lost Rodney Hood a couple times but overall it was pretty good and I was glad he was able to get the minutes he got and that’s a help going forward.”

As the Pistons continue to struggle, getting the reserve group in a groove — both scoring and on defense — could be a key to turning things around. Bullock could help lead that charge and it’ll take more than a one-game sample size to see what he can contribute.

Getting back a couple days earlier than he planned was a good first step. If he’s able to get back physically as he’s done mentally, it could be the lift they need.

And just getting his mind right was an encouraging sign.

“It’s really tough. It speaks very highly of him and his character and ability to focus,” Van Gundy said. “To leave a murder trial and to come back and play that night was pretty remarkable.” @detnewsRodBeard

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