Fortunate early, Pistons starting to deal with critical injuries
Auburn Hills — For most of the first quarter of the season, the Pistons were able to avoid major injuries, riding the wave to a 13-7 record.
The last two games have seen two critical injuries, with Ish Smith sustaining a right-groin strain on Wednesday night and Reggie Bullock’s lingering issues with his sprained left ankle from Monday’s loss to the Thunder.
It’s affecting the Pistons’ backcourt depth, pushing Langston Galloway into the starting lineup and Jose Calderon and rookie Khyri Thomas into action off the bench.
Thursday’s practice didn’t offer much good news, as Smith didn’t do much and Bullock did some light shooting following the workout. Smith was scheduled to have an MRI later in the afternoon and the status for both guards was unclear.
Rookie Bruce Brown already had been getting some rotation minutes after Luke Kennard’s absence because of a shoulder strain but Thomas’ three points in 11 minutes was an impressive outing that could get the rookie tandem some more playing time in Friday’s matchup against the 76ers.
“We’ll see what we want to do; it’s not necessarily in concrete. A lot of it will be matchup driven,” coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “That’s one reason we gave Jose more run, just to get the rust off a little bit. There’s an opportunity for Bruce and Khyri to play some point guard. You don’t want to throw those two young guys out there against a guy like (Russell) Westbrook but there are matchups that you feel good about putting them out there against.”
Brown also had three points but has been earning increasing playing time — 26 minutes on Wednesday — for his defense.
After drafting Brown, Casey indicated that the long-term plan could be to play Brown at point guard. That’s still a work in progress but they’re looking to find more minutes for him to get his feet wet there.
“We were impressed with the way they played last night. They played under control and poised,” Casey said. “They still made some mistakes; we have to take what we do in practice and transfer it to the game.
“Khyri has been handling the ball a lot in the G League, which is a great experience for him. They’ve had reps at the point before, mainly offensively. Defensively, it’s still the same responsibility and technique.”
Casey acknowledged putting Galloway in the starting lineup changed the tenor of things because one of the best reserve scorers was matched with the first unit.
Galloway wasn’t as effective, with just five points, but it the second unit needed that scoring punch.
“Any time you take a piece out of the second group, it always does,” Casey said. “We went with the best veteran group and it did affect the second group.”
As Kennard gets back up to speed, it’s the best option they have, outside of maybe starting Brown, who might be overmatched against the Sixers’ bigger backcourt.
Until then, the Pistons are forced to resort to secondary options to try to fill the void.
“I still don’t think (Kennard) is 100 percent. He is physically but mentally he still avoids the shoulder,” Casey said. “We’ll bring him along slowly. We wanted to get Jose some rust off and get a look at the two young guys. Luke is a big part of what we’re going to do. All options are on the table with all these guys.”
76ers at Pistons
Tipoff: 7 Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: ESPN, FSD/97.1
Outlook: The teams have split their first two meetings and Blake Griffin is averaging 44 points. The 76ers (17-9) have surged to second place in the East, going 9-3 since their trade for Jimmy Butler on Nov. 12.