Listless Pistons limping toward All-Star break
Detroit — Is it time for the All-Star break yet?
The Pistons might just need the week-long respite to regather themselves and to stop their losing skid. With a flurry of trades and little time to practice with their new teammates, the deficiencies are showing — big time.
On Sunday night, it was against the Atlanta Hawks, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. On the second night of a back-to-back, it wasn’t much better. The Pistons’ defensive malaise continued, with a lackluster effort against the New Orleans Pelicans, giving up 35 points in the third quarter and succumbing to a 118-103 loss on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Blake Griffin had 22 points and six rebounds, Reggie Bullock 14 points and Andre Drummond 13 points and 21 rebounds for the Pistons (27-29), who have lost three straight since their five-game win streak.
They have one game left before the All-Star break — at home Wednesday in a rematch with the Hawks — and won’t play again until Feb. 23, against the Boston Celtics.
There’s no looking ahead, though.
“We have a game Wednesday. Enough with that — you can’t just limp into the break. We need to get a win and keep ourselves as close in this thing as we can to have a chance to make a (playoff) run,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “My brother has a saying that he puts to me all the time and it’s absolutely true in our case right now: ‘You’ll win when you deserve to win,’ and we haven’t deserved to win the last couple of games.
Defense again was the culprit, after giving up 118 points to the Hawks, the Pistons allowed another big number, with three Pelicans posting double-doubles: Anthony Davis (38 points and 10 rebounds), Jrue Holiday (21 points and 12 assists) and Nikola Mirotic (21 points and 12 rebounds).
“You all saw them; we were terrible defensively. That was a part of it,” Van Gundy said. “I didn’t think we really did anything very well. They’re a good offensive team. Holiday and Davis both had really good offensive nights; we had a hard time guarding either one of them.”
The pair combined to go 22-of-40 (55 percent) from the field. Davis’ 38 points are the most the Pistons have allowed this season; coupled with his Palace-record 59 points in February 2016, he has the arena scoring record for each venue.
The Pelicans (30-26) led, 95-80, heading into the fourth quarter, but Anthony Tolliver opened with a 3-pointer and Jameer Nelson (12 points) followed with a reverse lay-in. After a jumper by Cheick Diallo, Luke Kennard hit a turnaround jumper and trimmed the lead to 10.
Holiday made a free throw after Drummond got a technical foul and Drummond answered with a pair of free throws after he was fouled, to get within single digits. But Davis responded with a three-point play and was fouled on the next possession, making both free throws, to boost the lead to 103-89 at the 7:32 mark.
The Pistons didn’t get within single digits the rest of the way, with the lead ballooning to 18 down the stretch.
“We just really need to get back to focusing on defense. We allowed our offensive play, our frustration of missing shots and just different things going on throughout the game to really get away from our defense,” Drummond said. “That’s kind of what we anchor ourselves on. If we don’t get stops on defense, obviously, it’s not going to translate to offense.
“The sooner we get better with that, the sooner we’ll start winning games.”
Here are some other quick-hit observations:
■Luke Kennard didn’t enter the game until late in the third quarter, as coach Stan Van Gundy tried a new rotation, with Langston Galloway — who didn’t play at all against the Hawks — as the backup shooting guard, in place of Kennard. Galloway struggled again, going 1-of-6 from the field, for three points. Kennard finished with five points, on 2-of-2 shooting, in 11 minutes.
■Jameer Nelson again assumed duties as the backup point guard behind Ish Smith, getting 12 points and five assists in 20 minutes. He shot 5-of-12 from the field, but was only 1-of-6 on 3-pointers. Van Gundy said he liked Nelson’s playmaking ability in the first practice and in the Hawks game, which led to the promotion, since coming to the Pistons in the trade on Thursday.
■Griffin, who went 3-of-10 on 3-pointers on Sunday, made a more concerted effort to shoot inside, going 1-of-6 beyond the arc, but 8-of-17 overall. The Pistons seemed to still struggle with getting Griffin shots in the paint, where he could be more effective and draw fouls.
■All five Pistons starters scored in double figures, including 10 points from Stanley Johnson and 11 from Smith. They were able to spread the scoring around more, but the defense was the issue again, with Bullock finishing with a minus-16 rating and Drummond minus-16.