Detroit — The Pistons are a season-worst nine games below .500 and with a difficult western trip looming this weekend, they stand to face a crossroads on their season before it even gets to the halfway point.
They don’t many signature wins but they have head-scratching losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls — three times each — and twice to the Washington Wizards. That stat tells as much about their season as Blake Griffin missing 15 games or Reggie Jackson 29 games.
The season is collapsing but there’s still optimism that the Pistons might be able to salvage something, as they’re only 2½ games behind the Orlando Magic for the No. 8 seed. The problem is that they trail the Brooklyn Nets, who are in seventh place, by another 3½ games.
How have the Pistons gotten there — and more important, how can they get out?
This week’s News & Views breaks down some of the things ailing the Pistons in their 11-20 start.
►News: Griffin is averaging career lows of 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 35.9 percent on field goals.
►Views: At age 30 and following minor knee surgery in the offseason, Griffin looks like a shadow of the player he was last season, earning All-NBA honors. He hasn’t established a rhythm in the offense and isn’t nearly the scoring threat he was last year. Against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, he was 2-of-14 from the field and missed all six of his 3-pointers.
“It’s obviously a disappointing loss with a lot of frustration for a lot of different reasons,” Griffin said. “I’ve got no excuses; I just have to play better. (Not having a rhythm) doesn’t help but I’ve never really been an excuse guy. I’ve just got to be better — that’s the bottom line.”
The numbers are somewhat staggering, and the Pistons roster is built around him, with the two years remaining on his contract linking him to their long-term future. His strength was that he demanded double-teams, but with his decreased effectiveness, that’s not the case anymore.
“He still can be a great facilitator and great passer, which he is. There are other things he can do for us other than shoot the ball,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We look at the numbers and get excited about that, and I know he understands he’s not shooting the ball well but he’s still a presence as far as screening or passing and we can run things through him. There are other things that impact winning that he can do.”
It’s unlikely that Griffin will be traded, so the path forward could be resting him more and letting him get some of that lift back or just riding out his slump.
►News: Andre Drummond had one of his best games against the 76ers’ Joel Embiid, with 27 points and nine rebounds.
►Views: Drummond didn’t start the game because he missed the morning shootaround. When he entered the game with about three minutes left in the first quarter, he was more aggressive and more effective than in previous head-to-head matchups against Embiid.
Embiid was questionable because of an illness, which had some impact on his production, but Drummond wasn’t in foul trouble and didn’t step outside of his game, which is a step forward.
“I just came out and played with a sense of urgency. Thon (Maker) did a good job starting out on him and making him uncomfortable early. I came in and just tried to pick up where he left off,” Drummond said. “I didn’t make the game about him; I made it about our team. It wasn’t a one-on-one matchup. I was more of what could I do to put my team in a position to win.”
►News: The Pistons have been outrebounded by double digits in the last three games.
►Views: This is one of the most alarming stats in a flurry of numbers that relay the trouble the Pistons are in. Drummond again leads the league at 16.1 rebounds but the rest of the team totals just 26 per game. Some of that shortfall is by design, but some if just hustle and effort in getting to the loose balls that Drummond can’t.
They were minus-15 against the Celtics, minus-17 versus the Bulls and minus-18 against the bigger 76ers. It’s a trend that’s getting everyone’s attention.
“It’s a weird streak we have going on. That’s something we’re really good at and it’s one of those streaks where we’re getting outrebounded and I don’t think it’ll last too long,” Drummond said. “It’s about us being in the right position and boxing people out and that’s something we can correct.”