Fading Pistons drop another crucial contest

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Chicago — With each loss, the Pistons’ playoff chances continue to drop; the door isn’t slamming shut, but the opening is smaller and smaller.

In the midst of a critical road trip, the door creaked a bit and closed even more, with another lackluster performance. Following Tuesday’s crushing, buzzer-beating loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Pistons needed to bounce back against another East playoff contender.

But the effort wasn’t there — and the result matched the effort.

The Pistons fell to the Chicago Bulls, 117-95, on Wednesday night at United Center and fell further into the chasm of playoff pecking order, behind the Bulls into 10th place.

BOX SCORE: Bulls 117, Pistons 95

It’s another blow for the Pistons (34-38) and their playoff chances, as they’ve lost five of the last six games and dropped 1 1/2 games behind the Miami Heat for the eighth spot. They have six of their remaining 10 games on the road and a small margin for error.

“The message I gave them is we have 10 games left and if we don’t change the way we’re playing, this is going to get really, really ugly,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We talked about how we had to defend and we didn’t defend at any point in the second half. We didn’t defend much in the first half, either.”

As it has during the skid, the Pistons’ offense struggled and the defense was still porous, allowing 59 percent from the field for the game. The Bulls (34-38) had 22 fast-break points and 58 points in the paint.

The defensive malaise showed in allowing the Bulls — who were without starting center Robin Lopez (suspension) and reserve center Cristiano Felicio (back), as well as with Dwyane Wade (elbow), to get almost any shot they wanted.

Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris had 14 points each and Stanley Johnson, whom Van Gundy decided not to play in Tuesday’s loss, had 12 points. Andre Drummond added eight points and 17 rebounds.

Even Van Gundy’s move to put Ish Smith in the starting lineup over Reggie Jackson didn’t provide much relief: Smith finished with nine points and seven assists in 26 minutes and Jackson six points and four assists in 19 minutes.

“It’s tough when you don’t make shots offensively; I think it gets in your head a little bit,” said Jackson, who was 3-of-10 from the field. “But you have to have short-term memory.”

The Pistons trailed by double digits early in the second quarter, but chipped away throughout the period. In the final three minutes, they answered a 3-pointer by Nikola Mirotic (28 points) with a 7-0 run.

The Bulls led, 55-53, after the spurt in which Smith hit a jumper, followed by a 3-pointer from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a lay-in by Smith. But the Pistons gave up an easy lay-in to Joffrey Lauvergne (17 points and seven rebounds) and a steal and lay-in by Mirotic, pushing the lead to six at halftime.

The malaise continued into the third quarter, with an opening 15-2 run, including a three-point play by Jimmy Butler (16 points and 12 assists), a 3-pointer and basket by Mirotic and four points by Paul Zipser (15 points).

That pushed the lead to 74-55 — and the rout was on.

Johnson answered with a jumper and Harris got a lay-in, but Denzel Valentine responded with a 3-pointer, pushing the lead back to 18.

Mirotic punctuated the period with a bank shot with 48.5 seconds remaining, for a 91-73 lead. From there, the lead ballooned to more than 20, after a three-point play by Bobby Portis (12 points).

Butler didn’t miss a shot, going 6-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line, adding five rebounds to his double-double, in 34 minutes.

“The breakdowns were we weren’t converting offensively and they came down and hit their shots,” Drummond said. “We didn’t have an answer for Mirotic when he got himself going and Rondo (five points and nine assists) just picked us apart.” @detnewsRodBeard