The Pistons travel to Cleveland for a Saturday matchup but aren't overlooking the struggling Cavaliers. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Auburn Hills — It’s anything but the same old routine and same old story for the Pistons as they look to stay in a groove during the final stretch of the season.
Although they still have a favorable schedule to make it to the playoffs for just the second time in the past decade, they can’t get derailed by the pitfall of overlooking any of their opponents, including the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.
The Cavs (15-47) looked to be veritable chum before the All-Star break, but they’ve gained a renewed kick with the return of Kevin Love, who missed most of the season because of a foot injury. In his last five games, Love has averaged 21.2 points, which has translated into wins for Cleveland, including Thursday at New York.
“They’re 4-2 since he’s been back and getting more 3s and a lot of the same stuff they ran when (LeBron) James was there. They’re playing loose, free and hard,” coach Dwane Casey said “We have to meet that to start the game, which we did not do — and that was disappointing.”
The Pistons (29-31) were looking to even their record at .500 Wednesday against the struggling Spurs, who went 1-7 on their Rodeo Road Trip before perking up and getting a win in their return home.
“Everybody in this league is playing for something, whether it’s your next contract or pride. I don’t know what the philosophical approach the (Cavs) organization has but those 15 young men in uniform are playing for something: their next team, next contract or pride. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot and we have to come out (better).
“That was the first time in a while that we didn’t come out the aggressor. San Antonio got us on our heels, but we never got back up on our toes.”
The Pistons had been stringing together some good first quarters in games and then finishing out well in the fourth quarters. That’s how they got on the hot streak that pushed them back into playoff contention. As they’ve seen, one slip could lead to them backsliding into old habits and dropping a rare, winnable game in San Antonio.
Casey wants to see the motivation and drive that pushed the Pistons to seven wins in an eight-game span and getting hold of the No. 7 spot in the playoff race. That’s the type of play that will serve them well over the final 22.
“We can’t approach these last games by being back on our heels to start the game and then finishing it. They scored eight of the last nine possessions, so we were on our heels most of the game,” Casey said. “To get where we want to go, we have to be the hungry and desperate team because we’re just digging ourselves out of January and December so, really, we haven’t done anything. We have to have that hungry approach the rest of the way.”
Bench bounces back
The Pistons bench has been playing better as a whole, including in the middle quarters and last stretch against the Spurs but they, along with the starters, will have to continue to play at a high level if the Pistons are to make the playoffs.
“We bounced back and got it within two or three (against the Spurs). We didn’t play hard enough long enough,” Casey said. “You’d better extend that hard play and you’d better be the first one and last one to hit.”
Casey said he doesn’t foresee any knee-jerk reactions to good or bad play in changing the playing rotation or adjusting minutes drastically. He emphasized that he likes seeing the players cheer for each other, but as the coach, he has to make some hard decisions and if that means the players are mad at him, that’s fine.
“We’re happy with our mix. The mixture changes if that doesn’t continue stability. We’re not in a friendship; it’s whoever is getting the job done,” he said. “If you’re not getting the job done, you can’t be in there. We’ll work on developing this summer; right now, it’s about getting it done. For the most part, the second unit has done a good job.”
Pistons at Cavaliers
Tip-off: 5 p.m. Saturday, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Outlook: The Cavaliers (15-47) have won three of their last four games since the All-Star break, with Kevin Love’s return paving the way. Love scored a season-best 32 points in the win over the Memphis Grizzlies last weekend. The Pistons (29-31) have won eight of their last 10.