Detroit — More and more, injuries are becoming the major story in the Pistons’ season. With one step forward in getting Reggie Jackson back for the first time since Oct. 24, the Pistons have been hit with another wave of injuries.
Andre Drummond missed his second straight game Friday night because of a missing tooth and lip laceration. Bruce Brown missed his second straight game because of an illness, and starting small forward Tony Snell joined him on the inactive list because of illness.
Combined with their existing injuries, the Pistons were without Blake Griffin (knee surgery), Luke Kennard, Drummond, Brown, Snell. That grouping has started the most games for the Pistons this season (seven), with a record of 4-3. With a depleted lineup, the Pistons started Jackson and Derrick Rose together, along with Svi Mykahiliuk, Sekou Doumbouya and Thon Maker, for the 21st different starting lineup in 46 games this season.
It’s made it hard for the Pistons to establish much consistency and put together a run.
“Not with our injury situation, or with our star player out. It’s always going to be something to try to strive to get better at,” coach Dwane Casey said. “You don’t replace what Blake brought to our team physically, mentally and the numbers — you don’t replace that.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us. At the same time, guys like Svi, guys like Christian Wood and guys like Sekou have to continue to get better.”
With limited options, Casey put both Rose and Jackson in the starting lineup and moved Mykhailiuk to small forward. It’s a stopgap measure with the flu-like illness keeping both Brown and Snell out. The only other experienced option on the wing was Langston Galloway.
It provided another opportunity for two-way players Jordan Bone and Louis King, promoted from the Grand Rapids Drive, to get minutes with the Pistons.
Casey had hinted that he wanted to see more from the Rose-Jackson combo and the first quarter presented the opportunity.
“We have to try to be creative and keep them on the court as much as we can with the minutes' limitation we have on both of them,” Casey said. “It’s hard, too, because now you take one out, then get them back in. So, it’s a chess match just to make sure we maximize their minutes.
“We would like to have them on the floor as much as possible.”
The Pistons got their first look at Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant, who is the front-runner for rookie of the year. Morant, the No. 2 overall pick, is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer, at 17.5 points, and is one of the most exciting young players in the league.
“He is one of the most talented young men that was in the draft last year. He has a string on the basketball, so our job is to make sure we stay (between him and the basket),” Casey said. “If you give him any kind of angles to his left or to his right, he will expose it.
“It’s not only the guy guarding the ball; but it’s also his teammates behind him.”
Morant has established chemistry with former Michigan State standout Jaren Jackson, Jr, giving them one of the best young duos in the league. Though the Grizzlies have struggled somewhat, Morant has helped energize them and get them in contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It’s definitely taken some time, but I think they’re actually growing a lot in this recent stretch. There has been a lot of connectivity with how Ja has been able to find Jaren on the perimeter, getting (Jackson) more pick-and-rolls,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “On the defensive end, those guys are communicating great together, so it’s not just always on the offensive end.
“From what I’m seeing in the first season, both guys are learning a lot of different stuff individually. What we’re expecting from them as individuals, it’s taken some time, but I like the growth they’re showing us right now.”
Pistons vs. Nets
Tip-off: 7 Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Nets (18-25) looked to be one of the top teams in the East, after a strong start to the season. They’ve fallen on hard times, with five straight losses and 12 in their last 14 games. The Pistons won the first meeting, on Nov. 2.