Inconsistent Pistons looking to gain some traction

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Twenty games into the season, the Pistons still haven’t managed to win back-to-back games. It’s an early-season anomaly that they’re looking to turn around, coming off an impressive victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

Their next opponent gives them the best opportunity to string together consecutive victories, as the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers look to rebound from a stretch of nine losses in their last 10 games.

Just getting a winning streak going is the first step in trying to turn the Pistons’ season around, after a disappointing 7-13 start. As they get more players healthy and establish their projected playing rotation, they foresee a better record in the next stretch of games.

Detroit Pistons guard Luke Kennard (5) passes as San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) defends during the second half.

“It’s not fun to lose; we’ve put ourselves into a position where we could have won five or six more games. Obviously, we want to win but it’s a thing where you can learn from those small mistakes you make in the close games you’ve lost,” guard Luke Kennard said. “We know we’re right there to (try to change) this season around. We’re continuing to work hard and we’re never too high or too low; we’re right in the middle and that’s where we need to be.”

The Pistons have had some crushing losses, including three decided on the final possession against the Charlotte Hornets. Blake Griffin noted that the Pistons seem to enjoy their wins, but don’t enjoy the fight and work that goes into getting those victories.

It’s a message that coach Dwane Casey has tried to drive home with the team as well. He’s focused on some of the subtle things that impact winning as much as making shots and playing defense.

“I say that almost every day: We have to do the little things to earn winning — setting screens, waiting for screens, which hand you challenge with, do you rotate in time and do you talk,” Casey said. “All those things contribute to winning. I think that’s what Blake was talking about.

“They have to contribute to get a winning streak going. If you don’t do them, you’re not going to win in this league consistently. One game doesn’t create a habit; every day in practice and every game we have to continue to do it and increase on it.”

Casey said he is starting to see some improvements in the Pistons, though it hasn’t always amounted to wins. They’ve reduced their live-ball turnovers and are communicating better defensively, with improved communication following Griffin’s return to the everyday lineup.

It’s been a steady work in progress as the Pistons have shaken off some injuries, including Griffin missing the first 10 games and having to backfill the rotation. Reggie Jackson has played in just two games, but the backcourt has been building chemistry as well.

“Not having our team together throughout the early season, it’s taken more time to build those habits together,” Casey said. “Even the games versus Charlotte, we didn’t earn the win but we were taking steps in the right direction.”

Griffin rebound

As Griffin has ramped up his playing time in his return from knee issues, he’s helped the team pull together its defense with his communication and presence. After playing just 24 minutes in his first game, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he missed the next game, a back-to-back, and another back-to-back, on Nov. 23, against the Milwaukee Bucks.

He’s played in the last four games, with two wins, along with an improved outlook on where the team is going. Sunday’s 34-point win over the Spurs spurred optimism about getting their first win streak of the season.

“We mentioned it (Sunday) a little bit, how complete a game we played as a whole group. We played together and really hard and it gives us a sense of what we can do,” Kennard said. “It’s really good to win, but to win like that and show what we can do as a group, if we play together and play hard and focus in on offense and defense, it feels good.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Pistons vs. Cavaliers

Tip-off: 7 Tuesday, Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: After a decent start, the Cavaliers (5-14) have lost nine of their last 10 games, behind first-year coach John Beilein. The Pistons (7-13) are looking for their first winning streak of the season.