The Pistons open the season without their best player but Casey says they have a plan until Blake Griffin is able to return. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Indianapolis — The Pistons are getting back to familiar territory, which might not be a good thing.
They’ll start the season without Blake Griffin, who will be out until early November because of lingering issues with his knee and a sore hamstring. He’s expected to miss 8-10 games during that span and the Pistons will have to make do without their leading scorer and primary offensive facilitator.
The Pistons opened the season Wednesday at Indiana and coach Dwane Casey already has devised a plan to move forward in Griffin’s absence, based on the devastating experience of the knee injury when Griffin missed the last five games of the regular season and the first two of the playoffs last season.
“We’re being very conservative with him and his soreness. We’re used to playing without him,” Casey said after Wednesday’s shootaround at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Everybody has to be ready and that’s one of the reasons we went out and signed Markieff (Morris) and kept Christian Wood and Thon (Maker) is available.
“We’re used to life without Blake; we’d rather have him, but we’re used to life without him.”
In Griffin’s place, Casey plans to use Morris in the starting lineup, with the idea of not shifting too many other pieces from the reserve group to try to overcompensate for Griffin’s loss in the starting group.
Luke Kennard, who started in the playoffs when Griffin was out, will remain with the second unit, alongside Derrick Rose. Maker likely will play power forward off the bench, with Christian Wood as the other big man.
Casey is wary of any one player trying to pick up the slack or trying to do too much in Griffin’s absence, so the idea is to spread around that responsibility among several players.
“Everybody has the same role. They have to be the MVP of their role and nobody is going to step outside their lane and try to take too much slack,” Casey said. “We have to do it collectively. One guy isn’t going to step up and take Blake’s place; it has to be a collective effort.”
Griffin’s absence could impact how the Pistons get out of the gate in the first part of the season, but it doesn’t destroy their season. They have one of the easiest schedules in the NBA to start the year and the priority will be getting Griffin healthy for the remainder so that he’ll be available for a potential playoff run.
“It is a setback but we’re not panicking and the sky isn’t falling,” Casey said. “Of course, you’d much rather have Blake, but the season goes on. You have to go on and be prepared.
“We’re more prepared than we were to be ready for this. It’s a setback but I don’t want to call it the end of the world.”
At least in the short term, Morris looks to be the biggest beneficiary, getting a bump in minutes and some time with the starters. Although Morris averaged 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds last season — his lowest marks since 2012-13 — the numbers are something of a mirage.
Morris battled injuries and played in just 58 games with 16 starts. In his three most productive seasons with the Washington Wizards, he started 170 of 176 games and scored in double figures.
He sees the uphill climb of starting the season without Griffin but knows there’s not much they can do about it, besides just playing through it.
“I don’t think it adds any pressure. We just need guys to step up in a bigger role,” Morris said. “We’re not sure when Blake is going to be back, but we can hold down the fort. We all need to collectively raise our games.”
Casey noted that this situation is why they were so eager to get Morris in free agency, understanding that Griffin was going to miss some games and they’d need a reliable backup.
“It’s whatever the team needs, really, and I’ll be able to step in,” Morris said. “I knew coming into this year that there would be a lot of times I would start with (load management) with Blake and just keeping him fresh throughout the season.”
Hawks at Pistons
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Pistons’ home opener is the second game of a back-to-back and will feature an up-and-coming Hawks team that could contend for the postseason in the East. The Pistons will be without Blake Griffin, who has knee issues and hamstring soreness.