Rough re­matches ahead at home

Pis­tons face War­riors, Celtics af­ter los­ing four

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY ROD BEARD The Detroit News Rod.Beard@de­troit­news.com Twit­ter: @det­newsRodBeard

Mil­wau­kee — The pall in the Pis­tons locker room was pal­pa­ble.

An­other one got away. For the fourth con­sec­u­tive game, the Pis­tons were re­think­ing through the fi­nal min­utes of the game.

It was the third game de­cided by sin­gle dig­its, go­ing down to the fi­nal min­utes; this time, the Mil­wau­kee Bucks fig­ured out a way to pull out the win.

The four-game skid, the long­est of the sea­son for the Pis­tons (14-10), comes on the doorstep of an­other tough stretch: home show­downs against the Golden State War­riors (20-6) and Bos­ton Celtics (22-4).

The good news: the Pis­tons al­ready have beaten both on the road this sea­son. The bad news: both teams are com­ing in with win­ning streaks. It’s a tough stretch of games, but it was no se­cret that the fourgame trip — part of a span of nine games of 11 on the road, with only two teams with a sub-.500 record — would be a pre­car­i­ous pe­riod for the early sea­son.

“We knew this stretch was com­ing,” coach Stan Van Gundy said.

The de­fend­ing cham­pion War­riors bring an­other tough chal­lenge. They’ve won five straight and though they’re with­out Steph Curry (an­kle) for two weeks, they’re still a dan­ger­ous team. The Pis­tons won the first matchup, but Golden State hasn’t al­lowed any team to sweep the sea­son se­ries since 2013-14, be­fore the cur­rent cham­pi­onship group that’s won two ti­tles the last three years.

The sched­ule hasn’t been very for­giv­ing, but the Pis­tons have logged some sig­na­ture wins al­ready, in­clud­ing the im­pres­sive pair on the road at Golden State and Bos­ton. Fri­day’s na­tion­ally tele­vised game is an­other chance to show they’re an up-and-com­ing team in the league and can shake off the dol­drums of the skid.

“This is the NBA. We’re go­ing to be play­ing against the best peo­ple ev­ery night. Even the teams that aren’t above .500 right now, they’re still good teams,” guard Avery Bradley said.

“You have to play hard and get wins. That’s our main fo­cus. We can’t keep tak­ing steps back­wards.”

Any long los­ing streak can have its effect on a team’s morale and out­look, but cen­ter An­dre Drum­mond took the lead on try­ing to stay pos­i­tive and keep things in per­spec­tive, es­pe­cially with the close losses.

“We have to keep our heads up; we can’t al­low these losses to get us down,” he said. “It’s a long sea­son and we had a lot of suc­cess early in the year. This stretch is bound to hap­pen and what we do with these rough patches will re­ally show our char­ac­ter.”

Free-throw strug­gles

The Pis­tons have strug­gled from the free-throw line of late, hit­ting be­low 70 per­cent in three of the four games on the trip. That in­cluded a 67per­cent ef­fort (18-of-27) in the loss to the Bucks — and those misses add up in a four-point game.

“It’s frus­trat­ing. Those are things we can con­trol,” Bradley said. “Those are ef­fort plays and you just have to be locked in and fo­cused on those things like box­ing out and free throws.

“Those plays can’t hap­pen if we’re go­ing to be the team we want to be.”

Drum­mond strug­gled, hit­ting just 3-of-8 tries from the line, but An­thony Tol­liver also missed two. Reg­gie Jack­son took re­spon­si­bil­ity for three misses re­cently, but there’s re­ally no tried-and-true rem­edy. The Pis­tons rank 22nd in the league on free throws, con­vert­ing just 75 per­cent this sea­son.

The big­ger is­sue is the num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties they get from the line, where they’re 26th in at­tempts (19.5 per game). Van Gundy al­luded to mak­ing some changes in the play­ing ro­ta­tion be­cause of the bench’s poor play on the trip.

He didn’t go into de­tail on what he’s con­tem­plat­ing, but con­sid­er­ing the Bucks’ 14-1 run to start the fourth quar­ter, it could be any­one.

He’s been down on Ish Smith’s play re­cently, but the only other op­tion is Jack­son, who is play­ing sig­nif­i­cant min­utes al­ready.

“Our bench has not played very well on this trip and we may have to change up our ro­ta­tions. Our bench had been re­ally good for us — and now, has not been,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t know that we can stretch Reg­gie any more and ex­pect the en­ergy.

“I don’t think he had as much en­ergy tonight as he did in San An­to­nio. I think we have to look at com­bi­na­tions on the floor.”

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