"Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in."
After their loss to the Clippers I was ready to write the Pistons off as dead, rip into their play and coaching and start looking seriously the draft and forward to next year. Then they come out even more shorthanded, with a lineup change and compete for 48 minutes to knock off one of the East leaders in the Hawks. The Pistons finished the week 1-3, what I would have expected, but did it in a fashion that leaves me scratching my head as to who these guys are and what they are capable of.
The Pistons week started with their first game back home from the rough West coast road trip facing their arch enemy Cleveland Cavaliers. Last seen sweeping last year's dysfunctional crew from the playoffs everyone in Detroit was interested to see how the new lineup would fare. The Cavaliers jumped on the Pistons throat early and the game was over by half time with an 18 point deficit that could have easily been more. The Pistons made a second half run of sorts to cut the lead to 5 and finish only 10 down, but at no point were the Cavaliers ever at risk of dropping this game. I can't say I was surprised or disappointed in this game; I didn't really think that the Pistons squad as assembled and playing right now could compete with the Cavaliers, but a guy can dream, right? The biggest story for the Pistons out of this game was that Ben Gordon sprained his ankle and hasn't returned since. Added to Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince on the sidelines makes for a lot of points that need to be made up due to injury.
Austin Daye got his first start the day after Thanksgiving, filling in at the SG, as the Clippers came to town. This game should have been the easy one of the week for the Pistons but proved a tough battle throughout the game. It was a back and forth battle for most of the first half with the Pistons going on a nice run to close the half up 7. The Clippers surged back during the third to make it a one point Piston lead going into the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, Fox Sports Detroit had technichal difficulties and I couldn't see most of the fourth quarter; by the time I got a picture back the Clippers had taken a seven point lead with about 4 minutes left. The Pistons tried to close in as the clock wound down, but Chris Kaman just proved to solid as he had all day, not even the great D of Ben Wallace could stop him as he finished with 26 points to lead the Clippers to victory.
A side note regarding the Clippers. It is all fun to jump on the GM of the always out of it Clippers, but Mike Dunleavy Sr. has assembled a very talented lineup with draft picks and trades that eluded Baylor. It should be a lineup that can compete. Now he just has to have the balls to get a coach, which would mean realizing that he can't do both the GM job and coach well and repalcing himself. This team should be MUCH better than it is, even with Blake Griffin sidelined. If Dunleavy can't see it the upper management needs to pull the trigger and bring in a coach as it is clear that Dunleavy has done a better job as GM than as a coach for this team.
Then came the Hawks. A Sunday day game does not usually bode well for the Pistons, even when playing well last year early on they couldn't win one of these Sunday matinees. And against a conference leader...let's jsut say I had low expectations after the loss to the Clippers as was formulating a complete write off of the rest of the season unless some major changes were made. Then the starting lineup was displayed: Chuckey Atkins, Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, and Ben Wallace--let's see the small, third string PG, a guy who has been playing all year at the point, a rookie playing D well but not known for scoring, a hustle guy not known for scoring, and a defensive powerhouse who simply can't score----I'm thinking, where the hell are any point coming from!?!?!? They tipped it up and the points came; from hustle, hard work, and rebounds. More importantly the rebounding kept the Hawks from having many second chance points and the hard work made it difficult for them to get anything inside. Villanueva and Bynum provided a nice spark off the bench and the defensive minded centers, Ben Wallace and Kwame Brown, even contributed 18 points between the two of them. Even when Charlie Villanueva had to leave the game in the fourth with a nose that wouldn't stop bleeding (broken?) from a collision with Big Ben's hip the team managed to score enough points to hold off the surging Hawks for the 94-88 win and both Ben Wallace and Jonas Jerebko ended the game with double-doubles.
I'm tired of writing the same thing about continueing to compete and working hard as it hasn't ended up reflected in the win total, but they do continue to do these things and hopefully it will become evident in more wins soon.
A win over an Eastern power, the Atlanta Hawks.
Jonas Jerebko becoming more confident on the offensive end, scoring 22 and 10 in consecutive games (though he was shut down by the Cavs earlier in the week).
Tayshaun Prince news--he's working out, some days pretty well by reports--still no return date though.
A loss to the Clippers--though they are an improving team and the Pistons are rebuilding it is still a loss to one of the historically worst franchises in the NBA, so no excuses.
Injuries--Ben Gordon rolls his ankle and misses 2.5 of the 3 games this week and is still listed as questionable.
--Charlie Villanueva breaks(? very likely) his nose on his teammate and is listed as questionable.
--Though working out now Tayshaun Prince is still out indefinitely.
--Just what the hell did Richard Hamilton do to that ankle? He's been out over a month now, that is some serious time with no return date still.
Alone as an 11 seed in the East and at the bottom of the division. They need to put together some more W's because I for one am not happy missing the playoffs, let alone not even competing for a playoff spot.
The next few games may tell a lot about where the Piston are in the Division and the playoff race even though it is early. They have division rivals Milwakee Bucks and Chicago Bulls in addition to Washington Wizards and Philly 76ers who I expect them to compete with for lower seeding; time to show us who you are and what you are made of Pistons.