Pistons looking to move past COVID, return to consistency in rotation
Detroit — For the first time in a couple of weeks, the Pistons’ starting group looked somewhat normal again. Isaiah Stewart was back in the lineup at center, with Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes in the backcourt.
That allowed Trey Lyles, who had been substituting as a center, to return to the second unit, a domino effect that put some of the other pieces back in place. Micah Potter and Justin Robinson still were playing big minutes, but Rodney McGruder also found his way to some playing time.
It’s the last remnants of this round of dealing with COVID protocols, and with most of their players returning — Cory Joseph was the last Pistons player to exit protocols, on Thursday — and with some luck, they’ll have some consistency with the rotation again.
“You just don't know, and it's unusual. We had some staff members to go down (Wednesday) night. As we were getting on the plane, they had to take transportation back to Detroit,” coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “It's something that I think is the new normal for the NBA, and it's unfortunate, but that's where we are with our league right now.”
The Pistons will have all their players back from health and safety protocols, but they’ll still be without two of their top players, as Jerami Grant (thumb) and Kelly Olynyk (knee) continue to work their way back. Olynyk has been working out at the team’s practice facility, but when he returns to the lineup remains unclear.
In the interim, the Pistons will lean on their regulars, as the 10-day contract for Potter expired Friday and Robinson’s ends Saturday. The Pistons don’t have any roster spots, so the only way they’d be able to sign additional players would be through additional COVID cases, which would allow 10-day hardship contracts, or by releasing a player.
Most of the players who have exited the protocols have played a game or two, so it’s still too early to tell if there are any issues with it, though some players have said they were a little winded in their first game back.
“It affects different people in different ways. I hear some guys talking about how their wind is still affecting them a week later. I think it's individually based as far as who can come back quicker or who it affects more and what their body type is,” Casey said. “It's a multitude of things, and the players will let you know, and the medical people will let us know who needs to be monitored and how many minutes guys need to be monitored.
“Their play will probably tell you, good or bad. The guys that came back against Milwaukee the other night, I thought they were in excellent shape, and maybe it told on them a little bit in the next game.”
While he was out for six games in COVID protocols, Stewart said he continued to watch the games, and he liked what he saw from the remaining players and just trying to play shorthanded.
“Just fight. Looking at our team, the mindset I could see is that we're all we've got. That's the way they played; they went out there and played every single possession hard,” Stewart said. “Just being in COVID protocols, watching the team, I just saw that they're just going out playing on every possession and just trying everything they could.
“Just sitting and talking to the coaches, talking to my teammates as well. Obviously, I was watching the game, still watching film as I worked my way back.”
Bey scoring slips
Saddiq Bey had been on one of the best scoring streaks of his career, with 20-plus points in a stretch of eight of the previous nine games, but he had just 11 points against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday and three points at Memphis on Thursday.
Some of it could be fatigue, but the bigger portion could be that teams have Bey as the leading scoring and No. 1 defensive target on the scouting report. Hamidou Diallo also had increased his scoring during the absence of first-tier scorers such as Jerami Grant, but they have struggled on offense in creating other sources.
Magic at Pistons
►Tip-off: 7 p.m. Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Magic (7-32) have the worst record in the league, having lost seven straight games. Cole Anthony (ankle) and Franz Wagner (ankle) are listed as questionable. The Pistons (7-30) won the first head-to-head meeting this season.