Detroit — It wasn’t some coaching fluke. Dwane Casey didn’t forget about Christian Wood, Joe Johnson or the rest of the reserves in the second half of Wednesday’s win against the Dallas Mavericks.
After using 18 players in the preseason opener, Casey shortened the rotation to primarily 10 players, leaving some questions about what happened to the likes of Wood, who was the standout in the first game with 19 points and eight rebounds. After posting four points, five rebounds and two assists in six minutes in the first half against the Mavericks, Wood played only the final three minutes of the game.
Johnson didn’t play at all. That seems puzzling, given that Wood and Johnson likely are competing for the final roster spot.
Casey said it wasn’t about the individual players. Rather, it was about establishing some rhythm and chemistry with the starting group and top reserves, building around Blake Griffin, who played a team-high 27 minutes.
The Pistons used different combinations Wednesday, including a group of Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard, Andre Drummond and Griffin for a critical stretch at the end of the third quarter that helped the Pistons gain the lead before steamrolling in the fourth quarter.
“It’s fluid. It depends on the night, the situation and how guys are playing. I want to keep a couple spots fluid, and maybe we bring one guy from the starting lineup, whether it’s Blake or Andre,” Casey said. “We had Reggie stay in there with that group to have two point guards. The last spot will be fluid; it depends on what we need.”
Friday’s matchup against the Cavaliers could provide a different rotation, as Casey is using the five preseason games not only to evaluate players but also to look at different combinations and rotations to roll out.
For the reserves, that could mean some unusual groupings. But with only three preseason games remaining, there’s still plenty of time to try out things before the regular season gets started on Oct. 23.
It seems that Rose, Kennard and Markieff Morris are solidified in the second group, but whether Langston Galloway, Thon Maker or other players get the remaining minutes remains unclear. That’s where Casey wants to employ different combinations to gauge how effective they can be.
“I felt like those (reserve) guys needed to get some chemistry together with Blake being with us (longer). We ran it long but (Friday) may be a little different because it’s exhibition,” Casey said. “What I want to do is make sure guys feel like they have a normal rotation when they’re coming off the bench. You may have two guys on that second unit that may be fluid — with one from the first unit.
“I want them to look at the clock and mentally getting ready to play at that certain time. (Wednesday) night, it was a little closer to how we want to do it.”
The NBA has a new rule that allows coaches to challenge officials’ calls and seek a video review. It only applies on out-of-bounds calls, goaltending, basket interference and called fouls against one's team.
Each coach gets one challenge per game, regardless of whether it’s successful. In the final two minutes of regulation or overtime, replays can be initiated by the referees and are not challengeable.
Casey had his first experience on Wednesday on a foul called against Bruce Brown on Luka Doncic. After a video review, the initial call stood. Casey disagreed.
“I felt like it was a clean block and Bruce had all ball and no contact but the explanation we got was it was excessive follow-through,” Casey said. “That’s the official’s call and we have to go with it. We have a right to challenge and we got overruled.
“We used it the way we thought it was well executed and didn’t win it.”
Just like the NFL and other pro sports, there’s a period of acclimation to the new rule, where coaches are looking to figure out how video review fits and when they choose to utilize their only challenge of the game.
The sticky part is the risk of using it in the first half and then not having another one at their disposal if there’s another questionable call. The league is experimenting with the challenge rule and could expand it next season. But for now, it’s still in a trial phase, with some questions.
“Everybody is still trying to figure out when to use it and how to use it. That last two minutes, you get an automatic (review) anyway,” Casey said. “If you want to hold it between (the 5-minute and 2-minute mark), there are other instances you might want to use it to save one of your guys.”
Cavaliers at Pistons
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: Former Michigan coach John Beilein makes his return at the helm of the Cavaliers (1-0). It’s the last home preseason game for the Pistons (1-1), who are coming off a win against the Mavericks on Wednesday.