The Detroit Pistons are entering the home stretch of the season. Following After a five-game Western Conference road swing, they will play 12 of their final 18 games at home.
Despite being at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and not even having a shot at a play-in game, they’re still competing as though they have something to play for.
The Pistons led the Los Angeles Clippers for most of the game Sunday, before ultimately falling victim to a 21-14 fourth-quarter run. Los Angeles, a much more talented and experienced team, trailed by 12 in the third quarter and needed a pair of clutch 3-pointers by Rajon Rondo to pull away late.
That competitiveness is a reason why the Pistons seem better than their 16-38 record would suggest. Their young players have bought into the overall plan for the franchise, Dwane Casey said after Sunday’s loss, and it’s easier to stay locked in when you’re seeing the week-to-week growth.
“As you’re growing against other teams that’s already been together, it’s tough,” Casey said. “It’s tough to win and grow at the same time, but our guys have been growing. Didn’t come out with a lot of Ws, but the growth process is there and something good is going to come out of it.
“I think that’s what motivates them. It keeps these guys motivated, excited about playing. They see the process, they see the plan going forward.”
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Apparent growth is a reason why our Pistons stock watches have skewed positive, including this one.
Here’s who’s trending up with just over a month left in the season:
Since mid-March, the two-way guard has been one of the Pistons’ best offensive players. Jackson is averaging 10.7 points per game while shooting 48.3% from the field and 44.3% from 3-point range on 3.8 attempts. He’s appeared in all 16 games since March 15, becoming a key bench piece.
“He helps the spacing because they don’t leave him when he’s on the floor, they stay crowded to him, so there’s driving alleys,” Casey said. “Even if he’s not making shots, he draws attention. He’s a big part of our future. Love the way Frank is playing.”
Jackson scored 17 and 16 points in back-to-back games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. Casey praised his defensive energy Sunday.
“Defensively, he doesn’t back down,” Casey said. “They tried to get him switched off on Paul George two or three times and he just didn’t back down and kept in front. That’s what we have to have, is that two-way-type effort from everybody.”
The second-year forward has been on the cusp of the rotation for most of the season, but his last five games were his best stretch yet. He scored a season-high 14 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 5, and has looked more engaged as a defender even when his shot isn’t falling.
Doumbouya is running with more purpose within the half court and in transition, taking advantage of his speed and strength.
“His gift is running the floor,” Casey said Saturday. I’ve said that since he’s been here. Once he puts his head down, he stays in great condition to run the floor. He does a great job of running, a straight-line runner. Now he’s mixing in finishing. I thought we did a good job tonight, we had 22 second-chance points. And I thought he was a big reason for that. Some of the 3s that were opening up outside was because he was rim-running and taking the defense with him. That’s his gift.”
After a solid start to the season, Jackson was in a slump for most of March. From Feb. 25 through March 31, Jackson averaged just 10 points while shooting 36.4% overall and 18.2% from 3-point range. He was a healthy scratch during Detroit’s March 29 game against the Toronto Raptors. Two days later, Casey reinserted him into the starting lineup, and Jackson went scoreless in 19 minutes of play.
Maybe Jackson was feeling some winter blues because he’s been a completely different player in April. He scored a season-high 31 points on 13-for-21 shooting to lead the Pistons to a 29-point blowout over the Washington Wizards. In five April games, he’s averaging 15.6 points and 4.2 rebounds on 49.2/57.1/72.7% shooting splits.
“Josh is playing very, very well right now,” Casey said. “Love the way he’s playing and the commitment he’s making to the team and trying to make the right play. Really excited about where Josh is right now.”
Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith has been quiet during the last month after a promising start to his career with the Pistons. It’s mostly because he’s been on the injury report, missing 10 of 17 games since March 13 due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, spine soreness and inflammation in his left knee.
In the seven games he did play in that stretch, he averaged 5.6 points, 3.7 assists and 1.3 combined blocks and steals on 48.3% overall shooting in about 18 minutes per game. Right now, his biggest obstacle is getting healthy enough to consistently play.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.