Shoddy defense proves slumping Pistons' undoing

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Poor defense has been one of the Pistons’ biggest bugaboos this season. It’s been a central reason that they’ve gotten off to a slow start, just 11-20, looking to end their five-game skid.

The Pistons are allowing 110.6 points per game, which ranks 16th in the league, but their defensive rating is a dismal 111.7, ranking 20th. They’ve allowed more than 115 points 10 times this season, including a season-high 133 points against the Washington Wizards on Dec. 16 — the most points they’ve surrendered in a regulation game since 1995.

It’s a problem.

Philadelphia 76ers forward James Ennis III (11), defended by Detroit Pistons guard Tony Snell, attempts a layup during the first half Monday.

While there are some fixable problems, the biggest issue seems to be the rotating lineups, which are a byproduct of injuries. That puts some unusual lineup combinations on the court and that unfamiliarity leads to lapses that put players in more prominent spots for longer stretches, which exposes the inexperience.

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In some cases, it means relying on zone defenses to provide the best opportunities to excel, and sometimes covers other individual deficiencies. Against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, it was effective, but it highlighted some rebounding struggles.

Coach Dwane Casey found some positives to build on moving into Thursday’s game against the Wizards.

“We did a lot of a lot of good things throughout the major portion of the game but it’s still that segment of decisions that passes, non-box-outs and decisions in transition in a short period of time,” Casey said Tuesday. “I'm more encouraged. But, again, we still lost the game, but there was a lot of good things that we built on that we corrected from our previous games and some of those things (we worked on) and again healthy or unhealthy, we still got to get the guys ready, who are going to be available to be able to go.”

The availability still is a concern, with Blake Griffin returning Monday, but Bruce Brown (sore calf) and Luke Kennard (sore knee) sitting out. Casey said that neither appeared to be a long-term injury and he’s expecting that they could be back this week.

Their absence jumbled the starting lineup and put Tim Frazier and Svi Mykhailiuk into the first five, but also created some opportunities for others off the bench. Christian Wood returned and played a couple of minutes, a knee injury that he bounced back from a little early, after he was expected to miss a week.

Pistons vs. Wizards

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Pistons (11-20) are looking to end their five-game losing streak, which began with a loss to the Wizards on Dec. 16. Washington has won both meetings this season, led by Bradley Beal (28.3 points and 6.8 assists).

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard