There’s no question that the Detroit Pistons have one of their most talented teams in years, and a real shot at ending the franchise’s postseason drought.
They just need to not get ahead of themselves.
The Pistons were flattered by a 4-0 homestand that ended Sunday, and believing their press clippings cost them dearly Monday night in Charlotte. After beating up poor defensive teams like Phoenix, Houston and the Lakers, the Pistons appeared to think they could cruise through the Hornets just as easily.
Instead, the Hornets led 24-15 after 10 minutes and never looked back.
When asked about some early defensive lapses that let Charlotte build the quick lead, Stan Van Gundy was as blunt as always.
“Yeah, we didn’t play well on defense for the first 48 minutes,” he said in his post-game press conference. “You have to be ready to play every night, and we were not at all. It is clear to everybody that they played harder than us, and deserved to win.”
The Pistons have been carried all season – something that will have to continue – by Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, but they barely showed up. Drummond managed just nine points and nine rebounds while spending much of the game in foul trouble while Jackson finished with one assist and four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
If not for Ersan Ilyasova’s 15 points and 13 rebounds, the blowout might have worse than it was.
Drummond’s foul trouble was a big problem, leading to one of Detroit’s worst rebounding nights of the season. They grabbed a season-low 14 percent of their offensive misses and only 71 percent of Charlotte’s missed shots.
Van Gundy knows that Drummond is his only good offensive rebounder, but he wasn’t willing to make the fouls an excuse.
“We didn’t rebound the ball when he was out there, either,” he said. “We got crushed when Andre was on the floor, so that wasn’t it.”
This isn’t anything new for the Pistons. When they are focused and playing hard, they can post impressive wins, having beaten Atlanta and Portland on the road and Chicago and Cleveland at home. That, though, isn’t a level they have been able to reach on a consistent basis.
When they aren’t ready to play, they lose to the Kings, Lakers and Nets and get blown out by Milwaukee.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s frustrating as well, but it’s embarrassing,” Jackson said. “We talk about we want to be somewhere special, but we’ve got to grow up. You’ve got to be who you’re going to be in this league every day, night-in and night-out.”
For Drummond, it is a matter of fundamentals. Van Gundy continuously stresses to his young center that he needs to aggressively guard the rim, and if that causes a few fouls, he can live with it. Instead, Drummond often finds himself in foul trouble as a result of going for steals.
“What I keep telling Andre is that his fouls need to be committed above the shoulders,” Van Gundy said earlier this season. “If he’s fouling guys up in the air, trying to block shots, that’s OK. If he’s fouling guys down by the waist, he’s not doing us any good. He needs to learn that.”
For Jackson, it comes down to something he saw Sunday night – hero ball. Even with his career winding down and the Lakers getting blown out, a sick Kobe Bryant jacked up 15 shots in three quarters, missing 13.
Jackson knows he’s isn’t Kobe Bryant, but there are times that he drives Van Gundy crazy with his unwillingness to pass the ball instead of looking for his shot.
“Shoot your shot. It doesn’t matter if it goes in or not, shoot your shot,” Jackson said after the Hornets game, not exactly grasping Van Gundy’s point. “It’s hard in this league to get one good shot, so if you pass up that shot, it’s going to be unbalanced, and people are going to be running down your throat the whole game.”
Van Gundy has mentioned countless times that he grows frustrated when his team stops moving the ball in order to look for their own shots. Having his point guard talking about shooting more wasn’t going to help him feel better, especially on the night of a 20-point loss.
Tuesday’s practice back at home was probably not an enjoyable time for his players, but the results won’t be clear until the Pistons host Memphis on Wednesday night.