On Friday night, the Detroit Pistons (4-8) fell short at home to the Atlanta Hawks for the second time in three days. Despite a number of late runs by the Pistons, the Hawks held the lead for the majority of the game and pulled away in the end. The turning point in the game occurred under two minutes to go in the game.
Trailing by three, point guard Brandon Jennings swiped the ball from Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. It appeared to be an easy bucket and a late momentum shift for Detroit, but Teague hustled back, blocked Jennings’ lay-up attempt, then proceeded to throw an alley-oop pass to Al Horford.
A potential one-point game turned into a five-point game, and the Pistons appeared to throw in the towel and call it quits. Jennings turned the ball over on the next possession, and the Pistons kept their heads down, disappointed not only in the final result, but their lack of effort.
At the start of the year, the two things the Pistons had on their side were excellent team chemistry and an array of athleticism and playmaking ability. Sitting ten rows behind the Pistons bench on Friday, I could see Josh Smith with a towel over his head, disappointed over not being in the starting lineup for the first time since November 18, 2005. Also, Jonas Jerebko, after being removed from the game after a short stint on the court, was noticeably angry with head coach Maurice Cheeks’ decision, as they exchanged words, and Jerebko continued to yell at Cheeks while throwing towels on the bench. That team chemistry has diminished since the start of the year.
However, the faithful fans of Detroit should remain optimistic, as three key factors will light a fire under the Pistons, which can translate into wins and a positive attitude in the locker room.
An Easier Schedule
The Pistons’ schedule to start the year can only be described as brutal. Of the Pistons eight losses, all have been to a team with an above .500 record, with the exception of a road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Those losses include Indiana, who remains atop the Eastern Conference, Oklahoma City, Portland and Golden State, whom are all considered Western Conference powers. They also had to deal with a four-game West Coast road trip only two weeks into the season.
However, the upcoming stretch, which includes a game on the road against a struggling Brooklyn team and a four-game homestand against teams the Pistons are capable of defeating, may be the recovery they need. A break in the treacherous schedule the Pistons have encountered thus far will add some confidence in the team, which could translate into victories.
A Healthy Chauncey Billups
Believe it or not, the Pistons’ average age of their starting lineup on Friday night was 22.4 years old. The youth and inexperience of this Pistons team is costing them games, where late-game composure and veteran decision-making could have made the difference in the game. On the Pistons’ roster, their three oldest players, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum and Charlie Villanueva, were all inactive. Some leadership comes from Smith, who despite being only 27 years old is in his ninth year in the NBA. But, Billups is a key factor to the way this team plays. He has experienced success in Detroit previously and is considered an incredible role model to young guards such asJennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva. In crunch time, Billups is well-known as “Mr. Big Shot”, but that is not the only thing he offers down the stretch.
Find A Consistent Starting Lineup
Cheeks decided to start second-year man Kyle Singler instead of Smith. Singler played the most minutes of any Piston and performed well, leading the Pistons’ scorers with 22 points. Smith,made a minor defensive impact, recording three blocks, seven rebounds and a steal in 20 minutes, but failed to score. If the Pistons are going to start winning, they are going to have to find a consistent starting lineup. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have been the only players who have started every game. Smith, Singler, Caldwell-Pope, Will Bynum and Billups have all started this year as well.
Cheeks’ use of the bench has been inconsistent as well. On Friday, Luigi Datome, who had been one of the first few off the bench for Detroit, did not play, while Josh Harrellson, who hasn’t seen action all year, recorded nearly ten minutes of playing time. The players must get used to a traditional starting lineup and rotation, instead of having to be on the court regularly with different players every night. This starts with Smith back into the starting role. He is Detroit’s most efficient player and the organization is not paying him $54 million to play 20 minutes off the bench.
Nathaniel Bott is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.