Friday night, the Detroit Pistons started a nine-day road trip that will provide some early evidence about their first fast start in eight years.
After one game, a 100-92 victory at Phoenix that moved Detroit to 4-1, things are looking positive. However, they’re also going to get a lot tougher.
The Pistons play Sunday in Portland, and then get the envious task of trying to slow down Golden State in the second game of a back-to-back. After taking a day before playing Sacramento on Wednesday, Detroit finishes the trip with a scheduling quirk.
They get two days off in Los Angeles before a Staples Center back-to-back with the Clippers and Lakers. Sleeping for four straight nights in the same hotel room is an unusual event in the NBA, but that’s what the Pistons will enjoy – and in a fairly nice city – from Wednesday night through Sunday night.
With Sunday’s game scheduled for 9:30 p.m. in Detroit, the Pistons will then take a red-eye back home and try to catch up on some sleep before Tuesday, when they host LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
By the time all of that ends, sometime around 10:15 pm on Nov. 17, the Pistons will have played seven games in 12 days, including four against very good teams in the Trail Blazers, Warriors, Clippers and Cavaliers.
The Pistons make a variation of this trip every season, as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus hits the Palace of Auburn Hills. In the last six years, as the team has stumbled at the bottom of the league, Detroit has gone 3-18 on “The Circus Trip,” but at least one player thinks this could be a good time for the trip, especially after an ugly loss to Indiana in the final home game (via Pistons.com):
“You go on the road, that’s all you have is each other,” Anthony Tolliver said. “Sometimes going on the road can work in your favor. Obviously, we’ve only lost one game, but at the same time, hey, it got our attention. Now we know we don’t have our fans, we don’t have anybody behind us besides ourselves.”
Given that the Pistons only win a half-game per year on these trips, it was a very good sign to start out with a win in Phoenix, especially given the way they did it. The game was played at a higher tempo than Detroit likes, and they weren’t able to dominate the glass as they’ve done in their first four games. Instead, they knocked down jumpers, got the ball into the paint and got stops down the stretch.
The most important factor, though, was the play of the bench. Van Gundy had started the season with a 10-man rotation, using his second unit to start the second and fourth quarters. They weren’t great in the three-game winning streak to start the season and imploded against the Pacers, allowing a 20-0 run to start the second quarter.
Against Phoenix, Van Gundy dropped shooting guard Reggie Bullock out of the rotation, and tried to keep at least two starters on the floor at every moment. That’s going to be tough to maintain once the Pistons start hitting back-to-back games – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond played 36 minutes while Marcus Morris logged 39 – but it worked for one night. Steve Blake played a big part, putting up 18 solid minutes that allowed Reggie Jackson to be fresh enough to score 14 points in the final eight minutes.
One problem did rear its ugly head, though – Drummond’s free throw shooting. After shooting 57.6 percent from the line in the first four games, he went 2-for-13 against Phoenix, allowing the Suns to intentionally foul him and cut into the deficit.
Drummond was visibly frustrated by the end of the game, something that every team coming up on the trip will have noticed. He still put up his fifth double-double of the season, but his 12 points were a season low, and his 17 rebounds were his second-lowest total of the year. Because of his obvious reaction, he’s probably going to spend a lot more time at the line before the Pistons get home.
His ability to handle that will be yet another indicator of how things are going to go early in the season.