News and views: Rocky road to test Pistons’ mettle
After three games in four nights, the Pistons get a short reprieve, with their next game on Friday at Oklahoma City. After a surprising 10-3 start, they’ve lost three of their last four games but are in third place in the Eastern Conference, behind the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors.
They’re still one of the biggest surprises in the league, but an upcoming gauntlet of games will test whether they can stay there as the calendar flips to December. The stretch will have them on the road for six of the next seven games — with only two opponents, Oklahoma City (7-9) and Phoenix (7-11), holding a losing record.
That, along with the current skid, will test their mettle. News & Views takes a look at the Pistons’ start:
■ News: The Pistons lost Monday to the Cavaliers, 116-88, in their most lopsided defeat of the season.
■ Views: In part, call it a schedule loss as the Pistons played their third game in four nights, and the Cavs had a couple days to rest, spending Saturday and Sunday in Detroit to prepare.
It’s more abundantly clear, though, that the Pistons simply don’t match up well with the Cavs, who beat them by 23 and 32 last season with both LeBron James and Kevin Love. In the Pistons’ two victories, neither Love nor James played.
Going back to the 2016 playoff series, there were a couple of double-digit wins as well. So anyone who expects the Pistons to start running the Cavs off the court simply isn’t paying attention.
After every loss, the bandwagon starts to get a little less crowded, but here’s something to remember about the losses to the Bucks and Pacers: the Pistons already had beaten both of them this season at home.
None of the previous four opponents has a losing record and all could end up being playoff teams. One of the first steps to the Pistons’ improvement is beating teams they should beat — with losing records — and taking a few from the others with winning marks.
The only glaring loss for the Pistons (11-6) was the final game of the West Coast trip, to the Lakers — and even that was the third game in four nights — coming off big road wins over the Clippers and Warriors.
Keeping it all in perspective, the Pistons still are going well, but their next stretch — including road games against the Thunder, Celtics, Wizards, Sixers, Spurs and Bucks — will be a huge challenge. They follow that with home games against the Warriors and Celtics. If they come out of that with an above-.500 record, they’ll be in good shape.
■ News: Reggie Jackson didn’t play in the fourth quarter in the loss to the Bucks.
■ Views: Jackson has shown signs that he’s back to his peak form of two years ago, when he was one of the best fourth-quarter players in the entire league. He showed it in the victory over the Hawks and again against the Timberwolves.
“That was his best finish of the year,” coach Stan Van Gundy said Sunday. “He got a lot of credit in the Atlanta game — he made some shots. This was great point-guard play down the stretch.”
The Bucks were playing the pick-and-roll very well all game and Van Gundy saw a better opportunity for Ish Smith to excel down the stretch. Jackson returned to play the end of the game against the Pacers and had some ill-advised turnovers, which he didn’t shy away from. There are going to be some more poor stretches, but maybe as many games where Jackson saves them down the stretch with his play.
Some fans wondered whether Smith might be a better option to start. Nonsense. Smith is one of the best backup point guards in the NBA and is fine where he is. The extra minutes and grind of the starting role could stretch him beyond his effectiveness — not to mention the chemistry issues with Jackson moving to the bench. With their good start, it’s not time to start experimenting with the lineups.
■ News: Andre Drummond is averaging 13.5 points, 15.3 rebounds and a career-best 3.4 assists.
■ Views: Neither of the first two numbers is a surprise, but the assists raise a major eyebrow. Drummond is playing at an All-Star level and has been the Pistons’ best and most consistent player this season — and that’s saying something.
The lapses in focus and energy haven’t been there through 17 games and he’s managed to improve his defense, as well as his free-throw percentage. He flirted with a triple-double, with 16 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists in the win over the Hawks.
Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris also have played at a high level. It’s unlikely, but if the Pistons continue to play well, they could end up with not one, but two All-Stars.