Charlotte, N.C. — The arrival of the reinforcements from the Grand Rapids Drive was the sure sign of how bad the Pistons’ injury situation has become. The Pistons called up two-way players Zach Lofton and Keenan Evans, who arrived in Charlotte to help fill out the roster ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Hornets.
Every day seems to be day-to-day for the Pistons’ lineup, as they welcomed Blake Griffin and Stanley Johnson back. Griffin sat out Monday’s game to rest his sore knee and Johnson, who missed the last three games because of a knee bruise. Johnson was a game-time decision but after warming up Wednesday, felt good enough to play.
It’s a relief for coach Dwane Casey, who had to juggle the lineup after Glenn Robinson III and Henry Ellenson each sustained a sprained ankle in Monday’s loss to the Sixers. Ish Smith (adductor tear) remains out for another couple weeks, absences that drastically impact the Pistons’ depth off the bench.
The other remaining issue is Reggie Bullock’s ankle sprain, which has kept him out for the past four games. Bullock has been moving around well during drills in shootaround and practices for the past few days, but Casey said Bullock’s return is coming — likely Saturday at home against the Boston Celtics.
Casey said in his pregame comments that Bullock could have played Wednesday but the medical staff advised him that a few more days’ rest would help him be ready for the Celtics game.
The rash of injuries doesn’t have Casey down; he’s just playing with the group he has.
“It’s part of the NBA. Players in uniform have to come in ready to do their jobs and play — That’s why you have 15 on the roster,” Casey said. “We have to not let it defeat us before we step on the floor and be positive about it. (Reserve) guys are dying to play and ready to play and work their butts of and it’s an opportunity.”
That includes Lofton, who had a good preseason with the Pistons and has been productive with the Drive. As for making a quick impact with the Pistons during the injury-riddled time, Casey cautioned against expecting too much.
“We’ll see. I don’t know about Zach (playing a lot),” he said. “If need be, I wouldn’t hesitate to put him in, because he is a scorer. They’ve been running our stuff with Grand Rapids. I’m not saying he’s going to exactly play, but he’s available and Keenan Evans is also available.”
Mindful of minutes
Casey wants to start keeping closer tabs on the players’ rest and injury situation. There are going to be some minor issues with most players, but they can play through some of them. That was likely the case with Griffin, who had played the first 24 games of the season before getting his first rest day.
“We’re going to make sure it’s prudent in those situations. If we see a load going heavy on Andre Drummond or Reggie Jackson, we’ll be smart and make sure we give them the proper amount of rest,” Casey said. “It’s a very important part because guys are a big part of the future and you don’t want to burn guys out and run them down.
“The NBA is evolving and science and analytics are coming into it; you either adapt or you’re extinct.”
Finding his touch
Luke Kennard took advantage of his start with some good shooting and got into a better rhythm. It’s what Casey wants to see from Kennard to earn the starting spot and get into a better flow with the first five.
“He was hurt all summer and through training and came back and was getting his sea legs and he got hurt again,” Casey said. “This is the Luke we thought we’d see and now he’s coming around. Like Reggie (Jackson) and guys who have been out a long time, it’s hard to come back from injury and be 100 percent and in rhythm and focus and understanding the speed of the game.
“With him coming back and getting more reps, you want him to have a 28-point night every night but realistically, it’s probably not going to happen, but the growth and building habits is really important. We need a shooter with that confidence. He has everything we’re looking for at that position.”