Shoddy play, cold shooting — now injuries — conspire to sink reeling Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Pistons guard Luke Kennard shows signs of returning to full strength after missing 16 games due to a shoulder injury.

Charlotte, N.C. — Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Pistons are resembling a corps of walking wounded more than a group that looked to be one of the surprise teams in the NBA during their 13-7 start.

The skid has a bit more to do with poor play and untimely shooting stretches than an increasing injury list that could give their normal starting lineup a match. Blake Griffin (rest), Stanley Johnson (knee bruise) and Reggie Bullock (ankle sprain) were three of the regular starters early in the season and all sat out Monday’s loss at Philadelphia. Add Ish Smith (adductor tear) and Glenn Robinson III (ankle sprain) to that group and it’s a surprise that the Pistons stayed within 20 points of the Sixers.

The timing of the injuries couldn’t be worse, coming during a gauntlet of schedule, chocked with 10 of 11 opponents with records of .500 or better, including Wednesday’s matchup against the Charlotte Hornets.

It’s a stretch that could determine what the Pistons’ outlook will be ahead of the trade deadline but there’s no sense of panic to go out and try to make a trade just for the sake of changing things around.

In fact, the Pistons think they have the answers already on the roster, as Luke Kennard had a career night, with 28 points and five 3-pointers. Robinson had struggled on both ends of the court in recent weeks and Kennard, who got his second start of the season, could be the longer-term option.

Kennard missed 16 games because of a shoulder injury and in the seven previous games he played this season, he totaled just 26 points. He had a rehab start with the Grand Rapids Drive and in four games since returning to the Pistons from the injury, Kennard hadn’t found his rhythm — until Monday.

“I’ve been struggling since I got back and coach and my teammates keep telling me to stay confident and aggressive. We had some guys out so I took the opportunity to play hard and get a rhythm back,” Kennard said. “Playing in the G League for a game helped get me going. The NBA is another level, and just getting back into it.

“Rhythm is one of the biggest things for me right now.”

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While the offense clicked a bit more with the new starting lineup with Kennard, Bruce Brown and Jon Leuer, the challenge will be maintaining that motion and variety with Griffin back in the lineup. Griffin has been a revelation as the hub of the offense this season, but the offense has been mostly reliant on his isolations, which causes the defense to double-team and eventually opens a better shot.

More than the threes on offense, coach Dwane Casey was disappointed in the 3-point defense, allowing the Sixers’ Furkan Korkmaz to have a career night, with 18 points.

“We did not do a good job of covering the 3-point line. Korkmaz, we knew he was a good 3-point shooter and we didn’t get to him quick enough,” Casey said. “If guys want to play, it’s an opportunity to go out and do your job. it’s things we work on every day in practice, whatever the combinations are.”

The key to success is making the open shots — something the Pistons haven’t been able to do in Casey’s new offensive system, which is geared toward creating open 3-pointers. They’re 28th in the league in 3-point percentage (31.9) while ranking 16th in 3-point attempts. With Kennard and Bullock together in the starting lineup, some of those numbers could start to improve.

They’ll just have to hold out until some of those players return from the injuries.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Pistons at Hornets

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Spectrum Center, Charlotte, N.C.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Hornets (13-13) won the only meeting this season, 113-103, on Nov. 11. The Pistons could be shorthanded and likely will have wing Zach Lofton from the Grand Rapids Drive as depth help.