It was going to be tough for the Detroit Pistons early this season, with five of their first six games against teams that either made the playoffs last season or were picked to make the playoffs this season. They’ve also played five of their six games without the 2021 No. 1 overall pick, Cade Cunningham.
That shouldn’t minimize the legitimate — and avoidable — issues they’ve faced thus far. The Pistons have struggled to make shots, even when players have been open. They’ve also been turnover-prone. And against good competition, those issues have been magnified.
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They certainly showed up during Detroit’s 117-91 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, who shot a scorching 65.3% (45-for-72) overall and 52% (13-for-25) from 3. A midrange jumper from Josh Jackson early in the second quarter tied the game at 32. Brooklyn answered with a 10-0 run to take control and entered halftime with a 15-point lead.
The contending Nets have Kevin Durant and James Harden. The rebuilding Pistons don’t have a player with an All-Star appearance, though Jerami Grant received significant consideration last season. Detroit’s 1-5 record thus far, with the lone win coming against the Orlando Magic on Saturday with Cunningham in uniform, isn’t surprising.
But coach Dwane Casey said he sees room for improvement. Following the second-quarter tie, the Pistons cut the deficit to 13 soon after Durant was ejected for elbowing Kelly Olynyk in the face, with about three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Brooklyn responded, though, with an 11-2 run to close the quarter and extend the lead to 24.
“Our margin for error is very small and if you drop your shoulders, drop your head once things are not going well, not fight through it and that type of thing, it’s difficult,” Casey said. “I thought when they made that run in the third quarter, we let go of the rope. And you can’t do that against a high-powered, great-shooting team like the Brooklyn Nets.”
After starting solidly, the Pistons couldn’t sustain their momentum. They hit 10 of their first 22 3-pointers, then went 2-for-11. After committing just four turnovers in the first half, the Pistons committed 11 in the second.
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Opposing teams are averaging 21.2 points off Pistons turnovers thus far, tied for the third-most in the league. (Brooklyn scored 17 off of the Pistons’ miscues Sunday) Couple that with Detroit’s ongoing shooting struggles, and it’s clear why they haven’t been able to compete against playoff-level competition.
There were bright spots, despite the final margin. Killian Hayes played his most active defensive game of the season, tallying five steals and drawing a charge from Durant. Hayes also was more aggressive in getting to the paint, drawing a pair of fouls. Josh Jackson gave the team an early offensive lift off of the bench with 10 first-half points, and Hamidou Diallo logged his first start of the season and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers.
Otherwise, the Pistons are still searching for an offensive rhythm. They will likely get Cunningham, who sat out Sunday back on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’ll be a tougher matchup than their game against the Magic.
“If you don’t come in mentally ready to play against a high-powered team, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Casey said. “It’s a hard lesson to learn but it’s a lesson we had to learn. We didn’t come in with the same readiness that we did last night, whether it’s back-to-back, whatever it is, doesn’t matter. You have to come out and represent the Pistons brand better than we did tonight.”
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