DETROIT – Twelve days. Six games. Four time zones.
When the Pistons return from their longest road trip of the season, we’ll be into a new year … and a new decade.
“It’s a tough trip, but it’s part of the NBA,” Dwane Casey said of the journey that begins with Saturday’s game at San Antonio. “We’ve got to have a togetherness, a toughness – a mental toughness – about us on this trip more than anything else. It’s over the holidays, so a lot of stuff going on. But we’ve got to be mentally tough and mentally focused as much as anything else on this trip.”
It’s been a worst-case scenario type of season for the Pistons with their games lost to injury spinning like an odometer tracking the miles they’ll log as they bounce from San Antonio to Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to San Francisco back to Los Angeles and finally on to Cleveland.
Luke Kennard won’t make the trip, staying home to continue rehabilitation on his two tendinitis-plagued knees. The Pistons also will travel without rookie Sekou Doumbouya – he’ll join them at some point as he recovers from illness – and two-way player Jordan Bone, who is also out with knee soreness.
The Pistons at least hit the road with a little wind at their sails after Thursday’s 132-102 win over an even more battered Washington team. During the five-game losing streak that preceded it, Casey saw flashes of strong play undermined by five-minute bursts of breakdowns that dug holes too big for the depleted Pistons to overcome.
“With a team that’s decimated like (Washington), you’d be upset if you have to struggle to win,” Casey said. “The guys handled it the right way. I thought we had the right mental approach. Coming out in the third quarter, we could have let the reins down a little bit. But we didn’t and now that’s a sign of growth.”
With Kennard missing and Bruce Brown returning for Thursday’s win after sitting out earlier in the week with pain in both calf muscles, Casey rejiggered his lineup. He left Tim Frazier in as the starting point guard and moved Brown to the second unit, where he thrived playing alongside Derrick Rose. Blake Griffin also appeared to be moving with more certainty than he had since before the Pistons last consequential road trip earlier this month when they were gone for a week.
“I thought he had more lift,” Casey said. “I thought he had a little bit more juice in his step.”
Griffin remains mired in a perimeter shooting slump – he’s now 2 of 33 from the 3-point arc since making 3 of 7 in a Dec. 6 win over Indiana – but he had a season-best 11 rebounds in the win over Washington and there is optimism that as he’s able to pile up more minutes and improve his game condition level he’ll fall into a rhythm that saw him shoot a career-best .362 from the 3-point arc on high volume a season ago.
Getting Griffin back to the player he was during his All-NBA 2018-19 would be the single biggest boost for the 12-20 Pistons as they look to use this road trip as a launching point to a strong 2020 portion of their schedule. After Monday’s loss to Philadelphia, Griffin spoke about the challenge of staying together through tough times.
Thursday’s win at least sends the Pistons on their trek across all four time zones – the first time they’ve done that on a single road trip in 40 years – on a positive note.
“It helps,” Griffin said. “We weren’t in a good spot, but for the most part this locker room is pretty good about keeping pretty even, not getting too high and not getting too low when we’re on a losing streak. I thought we did a good job of just focusing on us and make sure that we did our thing tonight.”
How well they do their thing over the next 12 days spanning six games will go a long way toward determining what becomes of their 2019-20 season.
Published at Fri, 27 Dec 2019 20:50:03 +0000