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Pistons show how far they’ve come at site of season-opening loss

The agony is over.

The Pistons returned to Indianapolis tonight, 120 days after they opened this miserable season with a loss to the Pacers. Detroit took another loss tonight, but unlike Dec. 26, it wasn’t a licking.

It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t inspiring. And it sure wasn’t meaningful. But the Pistons hung with the Pacers until the game’s final minute, when Indiana pulled away for a 103-97 victory.

Every year, a team surpasses all expectations. Its players improved during the offseason more than expected, or its coach ingrains a new plan quicker than expected, or something else just goes right that nobody saw coming.

One hundred and twenty days ago, I thought that might be the Pistons. Of course, I didn’t actually think it would be the Pistons. They had just essentially returned a team that went 30-52. But I thought it might be.

The Pacers crushed that hope in just a couple hours, and they, in fact, became the team that surpasses all expectations. One hundred and twenty days later, the Pacers are resting their top players as they’ve already clinched homecourt advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.

The Pistons, on the other hand, fell to 24-41 while using all their top players save Ben Wallace. The way they lost to Indiana in the opener, it was no surprise they started 4-20. Since, they’ve made moderate gains to a foundation that was invisible Dec. 26, and many of those improvements were on display tonight:

  • Greg Monroe (18 points and 12 rebounds tonight) became one of the league’s most improved players.
  • Brandon Knight (16 points, four assists and four rebounds) showed flashes of being a dynamic lead guard.
  • Jason Maxiell (10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks) rekindled his energy.
  • Vernon Macklin (six points and six rebounds in 14 minutes) developed into a reasonable NBA big man.
  • Austin Daye (11 points) made a few shots.

Pessimistically, those aren’t the biggest marks of progress – especially when the production of Rodney Stuckey (zero points, two assists in 20 minutes) has regressed lately. But in the context of 120 days ago, they’re remarkable.

The Pistons’ big losses and small steps of 2011-12 will soon begin to fade from memory, and tonight was the last hurdle for the fans who’ve hung on for this entire ride. As Detroit transitions from its penultimate game into its season finale against the 76ers on Thursday, attention will turn to Ben Wallace and his remarkable career. With one game left, this season’s basketball is over. All that’s left is to celebrate Wallace.

Soon after that, we’ll look back on the basketball of this season and try to convince ourselves the 2012-13 Pistons could be the team that surpasses all expectations.

Most Valuable Player

Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and George Hill sat out for the Pacers. Paul George most certainly did not. The active wing had 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Defining moment

Both teams offensively rebounded very well, but the Pacers got the biggest when Tyler Hansbrough corralled a miss, got fouled and made both free throws – giving Indiana a three-point lead with 26 seconds left.

X-Factor

Greg Monroe (18 points and 12 rebounds) helped keep the Pistons in the game, but his five turnovers and making just 1-of-4 late free throws ultimately sunk Detroit.

26 Comments

  • Apr 23, 20129:57 pm
    by gmehl

    Reply

    So looking at todays results, if we lose yesterdays game we would be 23-41 but instead are:
    Pistons 24-41 (Philly)
    Warriors 23-41 (Hornets, Spurs)
    Raptors 22-42 (Bucks, Nets)…they are leading the Bucks 71-69 with 9 mins to go in 4th)
    Nets 22-42 (Philly, Raptors)…they are losing to Philly 96-85 with 2 mins to go in 4th)
    Cavs 21-42 (Grizzlies, Wizards, Bulls)…they are leading Grizzlies 80-79 with 10 mins to go in 4th
    Kings 21-43 (Thunder, Lakers)

    • Apr 23, 201210:53 pm
      by gmehl

      Reply

      Oh well…Cavs, Raptors and Nets all lose (shakes fist).
      Pistons 24-41 (Philly)………best 25-41……worst 24-42……likely 24-42
      Warriors 23-41 (Hornets, Spurs)………best 25-41……worst 23-43……likely 24-42
      Raptors 22-43 (Nets)………best 23-43……worst 22-44……likely 23-43
      Nets 22-43 (Raptors)………best 23-41……worst 22-44……likely 22-44
      Cavs 21-43 (Wizards, Bulls)………best 23-43……worst 21-45……likely 22-44
      Kings 21-43 (Thunder, Lakers)………best 23-43……worst 21-45……likely 21-45
       
      Someone has to say it so it might as well be me but last nights win could end up biting us in the ass again. The only saving grace is that we lucked out with Monroe and Knight the last 2 times we didn’t tank. I have been saying all season long that the Pistons should of shut Monroe down early and let Big Ben finish off the year which more than likely would of resulted in 3-4 extra losses and a good chance to maybe get a top 3 pick. Its hard being proud of a 2 or 3 game win differential that in reality means NOTHING.

  • Apr 23, 20129:57 pm
    by tarsier

    Reply

    New Jersey can no longer tie Detroit. Cleveland and Toronto remain possible long shots.

    • Apr 23, 201210:30 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      Well. only Golden State is still in “competition” with Detroit.

  • Apr 23, 20129:58 pm
    by accelerator

    Reply

    Only one of the reserves that played tonight should come back next year…take a guess who should stay…

  • Apr 23, 201210:51 pm
    by Elliot

    Reply

    Liked what I saw from Macklin tonight.  With a good summer league, and time to develop his game, I id like to see him get a further look next year.  Daye should flashes of his potential tonight.  Get stronger and confident over the summer!  With big ben gone next year and a possibility of maxiel leaving, we suddenly become a much younger team.  I honestly feel that the bottom was reached with the 4-20 start.  With confidence I can say the Pistons are back on the rise.

  • Apr 24, 201212:00 am
    by 2Tough

    Reply

    Stuckey is simply pathetic.
     
    Get this lazy ass loser off the damn team.

    • Apr 24, 201212:23 am
      by Brock

      Reply

      Haters gonna hate…

    • Apr 24, 201211:29 am
      by RalphHau

      Reply

      Ditto!  Stuckey packed it in 4 or 5 games ago.  He just stands around, I don’t know if this is by design or his own volition.  If the coach is asking his to do this, then I have problems with Frank, if not, the coach should have sat him down and not played him.

  • Apr 24, 201212:43 am
    by Trent

    Reply

    2Tough shut the hell up. We dont need stupid ass comments like that on this site. We’re true fans of the Pistons. 

    I missed the game tonight. Can I get a run down on Mack’s performance? numbers look serviceable..

  • Apr 24, 201212:48 am
    by 2Tough

    Reply

    What’s wrong with my comment? Do you deny that he’s thrown in the towel? What kind of leader just gives up?

  • Apr 24, 20122:03 am
    by Trent

    Reply

    I dont think he’s thrown in the towel, i think the coaching staff are using these games to give guys a chance to prove their worth to the team, something Stuck has done, he only played 20mins. Although it has been a shortened season time wise I’m sure for Stuck it has been a long one. His body hasnt been 100%, he had late start under a new coach and for the majority of the games he played he was still the man for us. How can you indite someone on their performance in the last week in a losing season with nothing to play for? I, along with a lot of other Piston fans appreciate his work and in the next few years he will lead this team back into playoff contention and in the 4th qtr of the big games there is no one else I want with the ball in there hands.

    He’s only been in the league for 4 years and with a full, healthy pre-season under his belt he will be our most important piece along side Knight and Monroe for years to come.

  • Apr 24, 20122:18 am
    by Robert Zieger

    Reply

    Dan, I can’t tell if you mean the title to express optimism, pessimism, or uncertainty.  If it’s the former, I can’t say that I agree.
     
    Sure, this team is not as dreadful as the 4-20 starters.  But it’s hard to look at this game (or any in the past few weeks) and see anything better than a log, poor-to-mediocre slog ahead.  Yeah, we played the Pacers “tough”.  But they were without three starters, of course, and had nothing to play for.
     
    And it’s not easy to look at this game and see many specific signs of encouragement.  Knight was typically turnover prone. As was Monroe; most of his stats were solid, but they were against a team sitting its two front court all-stars.  I’ve watched all of one game this year, but I’m not hearing a lot of encouraging things about his defense.  Seems like he peaked this year at “good, but containable” on offense and sub-par on defense.  Stuckey is either hurt or officially not worth keeping around.  After his genuinely terrific ten game streak, he’s followed it up with ten of his worst.  (The Bulls game aside, he’s averaging about five points a game over the past couple of weeks.) Gordon made two shots in 28 minutes.
     
    Daye and Macklin were okay.  But there’s no reason to think that they are a part of the team’s future, given the season of DNPs for both.
     
    In short, it seems to me that Monroe is a top 50 player.  Knight may develop into a top 50-75.  And Stuckey…man, I don’t know.  I’m not even sure if we can use injuries as a mitigating excuse.  It’s time to recognize that frequent injuries are just a part of his make up. In four of his five seasons, he’s missed nine or more games; that’s not bad luck, but rather who he is.  And if you add in the games in which he’s either a) too hurt to play well or b) lousy for other reasons,  Whether he’s played or not, the guy has scored in double digits five times in five weeks–and this coming after he’d “finally turned the corner”.  He’s scored 19 points in 130 minutes over his past five games.
     
    At the end of the year, the Pistons seem closer to me to the 4-20 team than they do to the 20-21 team.  Barring a major steal in the draft, I’d bet on another 28-32 win season coming up.

  • Apr 24, 20122:44 am
    by Reaction

    Reply

    Leave it to the Pistons to screw up their lottery chances in the most loaded draft since 2003

  • Apr 24, 20123:06 am
    by Mark

    Reply

    We stayed with them until the end, but they were playing without 3 starters. idk how you can judge progess off of that. Though I do see progress from then until now, just not based on this game.

  • Apr 24, 20126:22 am
    by 2Tough

    Reply

    Zieger took the words right out of my mouth.  5 times he’s scored double figures in the past 5 weeks. Less than 10 points per game on 33% in the month of April.  Yes, praise him for having the 2 best months of his career this year in February and March.  Just keep in mind that he just had his worst month as a pro in the month of April.

    • Apr 24, 20128:19 am
      by MrHappyMushroom

      Reply

      I could not figure out how the hell you knew I was Zieger!  I’ve used a different screen name.  But for some reason, this time reverted to my real name.
       
      Good thing there aren’t debt collectors after me in three states.  (Oh, wait…)

  • Apr 24, 20127:57 am
    by France

    Reply

    If the Warriors and the Pistons are tied at the end of the season, the Pistons will have the 8th “pick” right ?
     
    GS won against Detroit in january and it was the only game of the season between these two teams.

  • Apr 24, 20127:58 am
    by MrBlockedShot

    Reply

    One more game to go and we will be done for the season. Only a tie with Golden State and being lucky with the coin toss might give us the 8th spot. Not a big deal picking 8th or 9th. Dreaming of picking among the first three, maybe we will be lucky enough, who knows :-)

  • Apr 24, 20128:04 am
    by Corey

    Reply

    Either Stuckey is still hurt or the coaching staff told him to take it easy on offense so they could see what the other players could do. Hate him if you want, but face reality: unless someone wants to trade an outstanding young player for him, the Pistons would be fools not to bring him back next year. If they get the February-March Stuckey back, he’s an all star.

    • Apr 24, 20128:22 am
      by MrHappyMushroom

      Reply

      If you take the two best months of his career and extend it to a full season, he’s in the conversation for an all-star selection.
       
      But he’s never put together a streak that good before and he followed it with awful, awful play.  Injured?  As I noted above, he’s injury prone.  You’d be betting against the odds if you think he’ll play 75 games next year (even with a number of them at less than full strength).
       
      He’s a competent guy who can come up big.  He’s nowhere near an all-star or a cornerstone for a good team.

  • Apr 24, 20128:27 am
    by 2Tough

    Reply

    Stuckey has a terrible work ethic. It’s not like we haven’t seen him mail it in in season’s past.  Why should I believe this to be any different?  I’m almost certain that no one told him to “take it easy”.  Stuckey decided himself that he would take it easy because he’s lazy. It’s not all his fault.  He grew up and still lives in the Northwest.  It’s sort of the mindset out there.

  • Apr 24, 20129:35 am
    by rick

    Reply

    Who are these commenters speaking ill will of injured player the last few weeks? Obviously not true Piston fans or else they would know better than to utter such nonsense about the teams best player. Stuckey is lazy then what do you call Monrow when he half heartedly goes on defense? I get he is not playing his best basketball but if people recall he got injured a few weeks back and if that isnt enough I challenege you tough talking individuals to do laborious work on an injured hamstring then come back and tell me who is lazy and whose a bum. People talking about mailing it in seriously meed to get a clue because Stuckey Monroe and Knight moving forward is the team and should be built around them. Trade Stuckey and you better get something damn good in return. Derrick Rose missed plenty of games this year but by peoples standards on here hes lazy but has been just as injured if not more than Stuckey but his team is making up for it. When the Pistons get that good then come talk to me about who should get traded and who should stay. Up until then most talk is just empty jargon solicited to get a rise out of people. Lastly the joke Im reading while responding is Daye and Macklin have a future here based off of last night. That alone right there should have told me all I needed to know about responding to some of the insane comments posted on here about Stuckey as well as the knowledge of some basketball fans or lack thereof. Truth

  • Apr 24, 201211:24 am
    by brgulker

    Reply

    Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and George Hill sat out for the Pacers.

    This is basically the equivalent of the Pistons sitting Monroe, Prince/Jerebko, and Stuckey.

    I would read very little into any “progress” this team has made based on their performance (which was still a loss) against a team missing three of its most important players.

    Yes, the Pistons are better than when the season started, but not that much better. The pessimistic reading of last night’s game was that they couldn’t even beat a team without three of its starters playing.

  • Apr 24, 20125:20 pm
    by 2Tough

    Reply

    The team’s best player?  Oh come on.  Stuckey was undoubtably the team’s best player for two months… as was Monroe for the first two months.  But Monroe’s “bad games” and mediocre stretches were a heck of a lot better than Stuckey’s.
     
    Stuckey has had a worse statistical season than he had last year.  You can’t tell me he’s better than Monroe.

  • Apr 24, 20129:25 pm
    by Lorenzo

    Reply

    Honestly the Pistons “screwing up” tanking nonsense just doesn’t hold weight…in this draft at least…unless you win the top overall pick it’s really not going to make much of a difference–talent wise–between picks 2-to-9. And honestly… when as a fan base you start clamoring for a few percentage points or start nit picking between the 8th vs. 9th pick then a new low point has certainly been reached. Seriously not to be disrespectful but some group of fans have gone “full re-tard (ala Hangover).”

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