Tough competition muddies reality of Pistons’ slow start

Detroit News

Philadelphia — The Pistons are off to a slow start, because of poor shooting, and they’ve been leaning on their defense.

That defense faded a bit in the loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

It’ll be hard to gauge what the Pistons are, because the level of competition won’t make many of the games easy. The records of the Chicago Bulls and Hawks, whom they played in the first three games, was 7-1 entering Thursday’s game, and the Sixers were 2-2.

After Saturday’s matchup against the Orlando Magic (1-4), they have another tough stretch against potential playoff teams: the Brooklyn Nets, defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks, followed by the Sixers and Nets again.

The Pistons’ shooting ranks among the worst in the league, which doesn’t help the situation either.

“I don’t want to panic. You have observations as far as where your strengths and weaknesses are, what’s going right and what’s going wrong, and trying to figure out the lineups with injuries,” coach Dwane Casey said before Thursday’s game. “I would say our biggest woe, other than (defense) in Atlanta, was our shooting. Our defense is ahead of our offense, so we’re happy with our defense.

“We weren’t in Atlanta, but our defense has been pretty good, and that was my biggest concern — and shooting is my second concern. Now, it’s flipped. The competition has something to do with that with Chicago and Atlanta, but you’re never satisfied — it’s not like we’re sitting here satisfied.”

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The Pistons had their struggles last season and playing the first part of the season without No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham hasn’t been what they expected, either. That doesn’t change their desire to win and the effort that they have to put out in each game, no matter the opponent.

“We’re playing Philadelphia and Atlanta and we’re coming in competing to win. We’ve just got to figure things out and get our rotations down and get people 100% healthy and go from there,” Casey said. “Right now, shooting is a concern as much as anything else. It’s like the old saying: ‘You talk so much about it, then you start thinking about it.’

“It’s not natural because we shot the ball well this summer and shot the ball well in September and in individual workouts. We shot the ball well, I thought, in exhibition, and I don’t know we’re went. They always tell me it’s like riding a bike — you don’t forget if you know how to shoot, so we’re going to stick with that.”

Cade watch

The Pistons have been hoping that Cunningham would be ready for Saturday’s matchup against the Magic, in the second home game of the season. His ankle injury has been a little more lingering than anyone had planned, but the good news was that Cunningham practiced this week with the G League franchise, the Motor City Cruise, during their training camp in Detroit, rather than make the trip with the Pistons.

He could still be on track to play, but it’s still a wait-and-see approach.

“We’ll see. He practiced with (the Cruise) all this week. I don’t know exactly what they did. He’s going to practice with us (Friday) and then we’re going to see,” Casey said. “No firm date has been set and we’re going to see how his body responds to practicing with the Cruise. I think that’s a great experience and that’s why we have the Cruise in Detroit, because we can use it as a rehab situation, which they’re running the same sets and same terminology.

“Everything is perfect for it and our organization has done a heck of a job of having that there, whereas they would have to go to (Grand Rapids) and then come back. So, it’s served its purpose right off the bat.”

Grant back in starting lineup

Jerami Grant, who missed the Hawks game because of an elbow infection, had been listed as questionable on the injury report, and he was a game-time decision ahead of Thursday night’s game.

Grant started, and Casey kept Josh Jackson in the starting lineup at guard as well.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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