Los Angeles — The Pistons went 2-1 in their three-game trip west, which is a success by any measure. Given the opponents, even the most ardent Pistons fan would have taken getting two wins; it just didn’t feel as good having beaten the Clippers and Warriors on a back-to-back, only to get dominated by the Lakers in the finale on Tuesday night.
Fear not, Pistons fans — Stan Van Gundy’s troops are not who you thought they were. And that’s a good place to start.
Here are five takeaways from the Pistons’ impressive west coast trip:
The Pistons (5-3) fell into a double-digit deficit in both of the first two games and in the past couple seasons, those would have been 20-point blowouts. The Pistons showed some fight in overcoming the big margins and actually won by good margins.
Beating the Lakers coming off of that would have been a huge boost, but the Pistons showed that they’re not at that level — they had the best record in the Eastern Conference for a day — and with a win, would have had the best record in the league.
“I wish we could have gotten another one,” point guard Reggie Jackson said. “This trip shows us how good we can be but a game like tonight humbles us again and lets us know we have to compete on both ends of the floor to reach our potential.”
The Pistons still are growing and maturing as a group and they’ll have to take smaller steps before they can take huge leaps, like sweeping a tough series out west.
Van Gundy has pointed to the Pistons’ defensive woes and having too many fouls. The disparity went the other way as well, with the Pistons not getting fouls called for them, either. In Tuesday’s game, the Pistons went 1-of-3 from the free-throw line — for the game. Both are franchise lows and shine a spotlight on the need to drive the ball more and get to contact, where they can get some easy chances from the line.
We have to try to get to the free-throw line. As we keep on trying to be aggressive and keep trying to get to the lane, eventually, we’ll be able to,” Tobias Harris said. “We had a lot of drives that were good moves to try to get to the free-throw line; it’s just calls didn’t go our way.”
Before the trip, Van Gundy said he wanted to have a better handle on what his rotation will be and how deep he’ll go into his bench. There were some clear winners in the past week, including Anthony Tolliver, who did another superb defensive job on the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and showed that he can be more than a 3-point shooter.
Henry Ellenson still is trying to find his way and Van Gundy seems willing to live with that, with Tolliver getting a quick call in those instances. Jon Leuer has been very disappointing, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be pushed down the depth chart.
After all the hand-wringing about the health of Reggie Jackson’s knee tendinitis and whether he’d be limited in short turnarounds, he’s shown that he’s back to his old self. His midrange game is a good indicator of how locked-in he is and he had it on display the entire trip. His defense also has improved and except for the Lakers loss, he circulated the ball unlike anything we saw last season. His 3-point shooting is slow to return, but that’s to be expected; everything inside the arc looks good.
There really is no main focus of the offense so far, but Tobias Harris is the closest thing to it. He’s been more aggressive in picking his spots between going to the rim and taking open 3-point shots, hitting 43 percent beyond the arc. But the varied offense creates opportunities for Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson — who both were impressive on the trip — to score from the perimeter as well. Andre Drummond has sacrificed some of his shot attempts and taken on a point-center role, creating off the dribble and setting different types of screens.
They’re encouraging signs that things could take off once the schedule settles down a bit, beginning with the five-game home stand that starts on Friday against the Bucks.