Auburn Hills — At the end of Saturday’s win over the Bulls, the Pistons had an odd lineup on the court. With Andre Drummond on the bench after fouling out, the Pistons stayed small and went with Ish Smith to finish down the stretch.
It’s becoming an early hallmark of coach Dwane Casey’s tenure, a small lineup on the floor, often with two point guards. Smith ended up making the go-ahead basket with five seconds left, lifting the Pistons to a road win.
With a pair of All-Star-caliber big men, the Pistons have a rare combination in the league, but their strength also could reside in their many options at the guard positions and on the wings. Smith, at 6-feet, isn’t imposing in stature, but his speed provides a good combination with Jackson’s shooting ability.
“He and Reggie have been really good together,” Casey said before Tuesday’s matchup against the 76ers. “I like the mixture of those two together in the lineup because it gives you multiple pick-and-rolls and two good ballhandlers.
“Again, Reggie Jackson showed the other night that he is one of our best spot-up 3-point shooters.
Smith is playing 28.5 minutes and posting 13 points and four assists in the two games, but more than anything else, he’s bringing a change of pace and a speed that defenders have to match.
Jackson, whose minutes were limited in the preseason, has no restrictions in the regular season and at 31.5 minutes, is producing 18.5 points and 5 assists. The win over the Bulls featured four 3-pointers, tying his career high.
Some of Jackson’s good looks came from penetration by Blake Griffin, who found open shooters when the defense collapsed and reacted to him. It’s a new approach that the Pistons didn’t show much last season, but it’s paying dividends so far.
“You can completely see why Casey’s doing that — they’re dynamic. Really, really dynamic,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said before Tuesday’s game. “They can complement each other. They are veteran NBA players, they’ve got a balance and they can put points on the board.
“I had the opportunity to coach Ish a few times and he’s great people, a tremendous teammate.”
Cautious with Kennard
Kennard looked to be an integral part of the rotation but when he didn’t play in the Bulls game, it raised some eyebrows. The reason points back before Summer League, when he was sidelined because of a knee strain.
The medical staff wanted to be cautious with his recovery and recommended that he stay off it. In turn, that impacted his ability to work out and get in basketball shape.
It’s been a rough road back.
“I didn’t have to have surgery and it was something nagging but it was pretty significant in Summer League when we were practicing. I got an MRI and checked it out,” Kennard said. “They knew I needed to take some time off because of it — 6-8 weeks is what they said and I took that full time off, without playing at all. It might have held me back, which stinks and it’s frustrating but it’s all good.”
It also kept Kennard from making a good impression on Casey and the coaching staff, who were hired in May. He was medically cleared to fully return during training camp but he’s not worried about getting into the mix, despite the missed game.
“The training staff were spot-on with a lot of things I could do, so not doing any live stuff when we had our voluntary workouts before training camp started, guys would be playing 1-on-1 and I wasn’t allowed to do any of that,” he said. “They were being conservative and I was taking my time. I said I was fine, but that’s their job, to make sure we’re good.”
Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of the flu but had a strong return with 16 points against the Bulls. He’s been solid in preseason and continued it with a quiet performance.
“Reggie is solid; he’s really just a solid player and we missed him (in the opener). He comes off and defensively, he gives you length and size and the shooting and experience that you have to have,” Casey said. “He’s a valuable player for us and he does the subtle things you don’t see in the box score.”