Auburn Hills — If there’s a good gauge for how the Pistons are doing, it might be taking a look at Blake Griffin’s playing time. Generally, the more minutes he has to play, the closer the game is.
It’s not an exact correlation, but it’s something that coach Dwane Casey is monitoring closely as the Pistons get into the meat of their season, reaching about 40 percent of the 82-game marathon. Griffin, who has missed significant time each of the past few seasons, has been mostly healthy and has missed just one game to get some rest and to give some relief to a minor knee malady.
“We want to watch his minutes. The key is the first half, making sure we keep it at a certain level,” Casey said. “That’s what I’ve done with most high-usage players in the past and it’s never failed that if you get them above a certain number in the first half, it tells on them in the third and fourth quarter.
“I have to do a better job of making sure I keep that on point.”
The Pistons (16-16) haven’t had many blowout games, so there haven’t been plentiful opportunities to give Griffin rest during lopsided games. Even this week, with a matchup against the struggling Atlanta Hawks, Griffin had to play his normal minutes.
In Wednesday’s win over the Wizards, there looked to be a chance to rest Griffin in the second half after he played a routine 15 minutes in the first half. The Pistons built a 22-point lead in the third quarter, but they couldn’t hold the margin, which got down to 13 points entering the fourth.
Washington got it down to three points in the final minutes and Griffin had another nine minutes in the final period, instead of some potentially beneficial rest.
“You want to make sure you keep his per-game minutes down as much as we can. Our problem was (Wednesday), as well as Atlanta, we needed all hands on deck in that situation,” Casey said. “We can help by making sure we get a good cushion and keep a good cushion and we don’t have to keep him out there as much.”
Last season, Griffin played in 58 games, after 61 in 2016-17 and 35 the previous season. He’s on track to play more than 70 games for the first time since 2013-14 but Casey wants to keep an eye on that maintenance, giving Griffin days off when warranted.
“The past couple years have been tough,” Griffin said. “This summer (wasn’t about) rehabbing to get healthy to play in time for the season to start.”
Remaining healthy has been the key to Griffin being back in shape and having another season worthy of an All-Star selection.
Glenn Robinson III, who played three seasons for the Pacers and was a standout in high school in Indiana, was looking forward to playing his first game against his former team. An ankle sprain will keep him out of Friday’s game, but that won’t make it any less strange.
“Being there three years and being from there, I was hoping to be out there with the team and doing a lot,” Robinson said. “It’s a game I marked off on the schedule. I’m just trying to progress. It’s going to be weird sitting on the visitors’ bench.”
Robinson signed with the Pistons as a free agent in the summer and the injury was a scare, given another ankle injury decimated most of his final season with the Pacers. He’s working his way back and could return to the lineup during Detroit's four-game trip.
“I’m feeling good. I practiced today and scrimmaged with some of the guys,” he said. “It was a thing where we didn’t know how bad it was and finding out it had nothing to do with last year’s injury was a great relief, and I’m working on getting my ankle better. I’m feeling great and have a lot of confidence going in.”
Griffin waited until the first practice after Christmas to bestow gifts on his teammates, giving each of them a customized Bird motorized scooter.
The gifts were big hits, as the players emerged from the locker room and started riding on the practice court. Stanley Johnson was the first to do a lap around, and others followed shortly thereafter.
Pistons at Pacers
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Outlook: The Pistons (16-16) ended their two-game skid with Wednesday’s win over the Wizards. Langston Galloway has scored in double figures each of the past two games and Bruce Brown has slid into the starting lineup as a defensive option.