Griffin, Rose play against Bucks as Pistons show signs of getting well

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Slowly but surely, the Pistons are getting closer to being back whole.

Sort of.

Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe passes around Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23).

Two of their major pieces, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, played in the second games of a back-to-back for the first time this season, against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. That wasn’t the case in the first meeting against the Bucks, on Nov. 23, also against the Bucks, on a back-to-back.

It’s a small thing, but it’s showing that the Pistons are easing up on the restrictions for their star players, after being overly conservative early in the season, with both Rose and Griffin dealing with injuries.

Griffin missed the first 10 games because of knee issues and Rose sat out five games because of hamstring soreness. After both played on Tuesday in Cleveland in a lopsided win, it’s telling that they both were healthy enough to play.

With those two out, the playing rotations were impacted, leading to some odd combinations on the court. As they’ve returned and increased their minutes, the Pistons have gotten into a bit of a groove, with some cohesion and chemistry within the starting lineup and the second group.

It’s not just the two-game winning streak; it was also leading to better play on the defensive end and some improved offense.

“We’re playing better basketball. Does that mean we’re going to beat the world? I don’t know, but we’re playing a lot better than we were even two weeks ago,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I like our defensive approach now and our attention to detail is better. We’re more physical right now and getting into the guy we’re guarding and making him feel us.

“We’re closing the paint down and not playing selfish defense … We’re doing a lot of positive things defensively, but we have to continue to get better.”

The team got some encouraging news on Tuesday, as Reggie Jackson was reexamined and the team medical staff noted that he’s showing progress in his recovery from the stress reaction in his back. The timeline for his potential return is still up in the air; he’ll be evaluated in another two weeks, but the possibility that Jackson could return, and the starting lineup could be whole again is encouraging for Casey.

Along with the good news came some caution, as Luke Kennard missed Wednesday's game because of bilateral knee patella tendinopathy. It looked to be an injury-maintenance day for Kennard, as he played Tuesday with no apparent issues, but on the back-to-back, the medical staff might have been more cautious with how they were handling the injury. 

It's another malady to monitor, as it affected the starting lineup, pushing Svi Mykhailiuk into the first five. It doesn't look to be a long-term issue that will keep Kennard out for a longer stretch. 

Markieff Morris, who had a cervical spine strain and went to the locker room briefly Tuesday to be examined, was in the lineup against the Bucks. 

Focus on turnovers

The Pistons’ other big issue has been turnovers, which has been reduced in recent weeks. Although they’ve trimmed the number to 13 per game in the last four games — including just 12 against the Cavaliers on Tuesday — they are keeping an eye on how many of those are live-ball turnovers that lead to easy baskets.

It’s especially tough against the Bucks, who thrive on such turnovers, with their lanky and athletic big men and tough, defensive-minded guards.

“When you give live-ball turnovers, you cannot get back or you are going to foul in transition," Casey said. "So, taking care of the ball is first, since it helps your defense, but then just making sure we are in protecting the paint, being physical, moving our feet without fouling defensively.

“Our defensive focus has kind of kicked in. We have been preaching it, but for whatever reason, we were more concerned about our touches on offensive possessions than we were defensively. So, we kind of turned that around — not here 100 percent yet — but we are getting there.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard