The Detroit Pistons‘ win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday felt like a bookend, of sorts, for the franchise after an eventful few weeks. They’ve had nine players enter health and safety protocols since Dec. 22, and until this past Monday, were relying on eight G League players to fill in the gaps.
Six members of the NBA-level rotation returned in time for the Pistons’ game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, and they ended up defeating the defending champs with their most complete effort this season. The Pistons followed that with two of their worst efforts, losing to the Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies by a combined 59 points in back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday.
Saturday brought the final return from the initial eight in protocols: Cory Joseph, who played productive minutes off the bench to help power the Pistons to a 97-92 victory. There’s still one Piston in protocols, as Frank Jackson entered on Thursday. But Saturday marked the first game without a G League player in the rotation in eight tries.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey hopes the team can find positives from the experience. The Pistons aren’t quite back to normal yet. Isaiah Stewart is still dealing with fatigue after exiting protocols on Tuesday, and he may not be the only one. Detroit only has eight wins this season, but they looked unusually lethargic in those losses to the Hornets and Grizzlies. But their effort against the Magic was an improvement, as they held Orlando to 19 points in the final period to grind out the victory.
“Hopefully we learned a lot from this past week as far as the COVID situation, bringing players in, bringing players out, in sync, out of sync, whatever the situation is, I think we all learned a lot,” Casey said. “Our medical staff, coaching staff, everybody learned what you can do and how much you can go and still be functional through those two games. Maybe it was too quick. Maybe you need more time for conditioning. But we learned and moved on. I think the whole league is learning. That first game back was full of adrenaline, excitement. And then the next couple of days, you’re down a little bit.”
SATURDAY’S WIN: Hamidou Diallo, Trey Lyles step up for Pistons in win over Magic
Hamidou Diallo and Trey Lyles stepped up to save the Pistons on Saturday. Diallo scored a team-high 17 points, including two clutch buckets — a tip-in and two-handed dunk — in the final two minutes to help Detroit clinch the win. And after a third quarter in which the Magic tied the game after trailing by 10 points, Lyles took control early in the fourth by scoring Detroit’s first eight points in the period. He finished with a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double.
The Pistons are still awaiting Jackson’s return, as well as the return of their two highest-paid players — Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk. The latter appears to be nearing a return from a sprained left knee suffered in November; he was on the bench for Saturday’s win. Casey didn’t ring any alarms after their 30-point loss to the Grizzlies on Thursday. The team is still learning how to play with consistent energy every night, and the unpredictability of their COVID-19 outbreak has made that task even more difficult. But Casey focused on the big picture after their win over the Magic.
“We’re growing,” he said. “I don’t get caught up in who said what and all that. I understand what we have in that locker room and where we need to go and how we need to grow. We get down, we get beat but I don’t lose sight of the big picture.”
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