Johnson, Bullock absences have Pistons flailing on the wings
Detroit — The regular season didn’t start the way the Pistons had planned. The health of Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin had been a concern for most of the summer and during the preseason to ensure they were ready for the season opener.
The issue isn’t Jackson or Griffin — it’s their starting wings: Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock. Johnson (sore toe) and Bullock (flu) missed Wednesday’s season opener at Little Caesars Arena against the Brooklyn Nets.
The toe injury has been bothering Johnson for the past couple preseason games and coach Dwane Casey held Johnson out of the last two practices, hoping to ease some of the pain to prepare for the start of the season.
Bullock’s illness was unexpected but forced Casey to adjust the starting lineup, giving rookie Bruce Brown Jr. the start in his NBA debut, alongside Luke Kennard. It’s not ideal, but Casey went to a hybrid lineup that shows the Pistons’ depth and versatility to fill without their starting wings, but Johnson’s injury, especially, is one to watch in the next few days. The Pistons don’t play against until Saturday, in Chicago.
By starting Brown, and Kennard, Casey was able to keep most of the reserve group together so that they could at least try to build some chemistry.
It was also an opportunity for undrafted rookie Zach Lofton, who was promoted to a two-way contract this week, to dress for the game. Rookies Khyri Thomas and Keenan Evans — also on a two-way contract — were inactive.
It wasn’t just the season opener; it was the debut for new coach Dwane Casey, who was the coach of the year last season in Toronto. His arrival raised expectations, but he’s focused more on implementing his offensive system of taking more efficient shots and prioritizing 3-pointers and shots in the paint.
Wednesday’s opener provided the first glimpse into how that will translate on the floor.
“It’s the unknown, how everybody reacts to the pressure of the game situation and we kind of saw it throughout the exhibition season. But there is nothing like the opening-night jitters,” Casey said before the game. “I know how we worked on playing, the style of play we want to have and the identity we want to have and we are getting closer to it.
The last exhibition game, we did a better job than anything of shooting our shot spectrum, getting the shots we wanted, the type of shots and we got improvement on the shot selection from our players — so we’re getting there.”
The Pistons opened the season with a special tribute to Aretha Franklin. Pistons legend Isiah Thomas spoke and brought a microphone to center court and placed it on a stand. On the scoreboard, a video montage played, along with audio of Franklin’s rendition of the national anthem.
Franklin died in August and rather than the customary anthem sung by LaShell Renee, they added a hometown touch, which drew an ovation from the crowd.