News & Views: Pistons’ Kelly Olynyk makes immediate impact in return to action

Detroit News

Sacramento — The odds were stacked against the Pistons on Wednesday night. They had a 10-point deficit with three minutes to go, on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back.

In many games this season, that scenario would have spelled doom.

They managed to turn the tables on the Sacramento Kings and snatched a 133-131 victory. It was impressive because the Pistons committed 26 fouls and the Kings had 44 free-throw attempts. Sacramento shot 52% from the field and 44% on 3-pointers. Usually, those spell doom for the Pistons as well.

There were some good signs, though.

The Pistons showed some resolve in grabbing the lead in the final minutes behind their veterans, including Cory Joseph, who hit the go-ahead shot with 26.5 seconds left. Kelly Olynyk played well in his first game back since Nov. 10, notching 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

The road trip has been up and down for the Pistons, who have split the first two, but there are some signs that when they get closer to full strength with the returns of Jerami Grant and Frank Jackson, they could make some strides.

This edition of News & Views looks at some of the storylines from the past week:

News: Olynyk returned from a knee injury and was a catalyst in the win over the Kings.

Views: There’s been so much talk about how much injuries limited the Pistons, who played without Cade Cunningham (ankle) early in the season, then Grant (thumb) for the last month or so. One could argue Olynyk has been as important to their success as anyone.

The big man anchors the Pistons’ second unit, and with him and Trey Lyles in the frontcourt, the Pistons looked much different on the boards. They outrebounded the Kings, 41-35, with the pair accounting for 15 rebounds.

Olynyk’s 22 points came in 22 minutes, and coach Dwane Casey said they were trying to monitor Olynyk’s playing time to bring him along slowly. Even in fewer minutes, he was a big asset.

“I kept him in short bursts and short stints, and that way, he could get his sea legs back. He’s such a smart player. He knows what the play is after the play,” Casey said. “He read situations on passes defensively. He wasn’t as good, but yet still, his size and length could be a little bit of a deterrent at the rim.

“We needed that type of intellect on the court, especially in close games and tight games to make the right play.”

News: The Pistons are 6-5 in January, after a lackluster start to the season.

Views: They’re figuring some things out, and they’re starting to play better in longer stretches. There are still plenty of concerns with their focus and communication on the defensive end and with turnovers, but most of those are fixable issues. It’s just going to take time, and with almost half the season to play, there’s plenty of time.

Even with the recent good play, they’re not in jeopardy of affecting their draft position. The Pistons’ 11 wins still are the second-fewest in the league — the Orlando Magic have just eight and the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets have 14 each. The Pistons are in their best stretch of the season, and there should be reason for optimism.

The rest of the season is about finding out which players are long-term fits for the rebuild, so fans should worry less about the record and more about what general manager Troy Weaver and his staff gauge with the eye test.

News: Rodney McGruder is averaging 17 points in his last two games after the trade to the Denver Nuggets was nixed.

Views: That’s just what he does. In many games that he enters and plays scant minutes, he makes his first shot, which shows his focus and readiness. He’s an unsung hero for how he carries himself and for the impact that he has on some of the young players. He’s 7-of-13 on 3-pointers in the last two games, and 13-of-20 overall from the field, which is more than what many teams get from role players.

With Frank Jackson still working his way back, McGruder has been what the Pistons have needed as a shooter and scorer, and even when Jackson returns, McGruder has a role. He was the first reserve off the bench Wednesday, a well-deserved nod to his impact.

More: Pistons welcome back veteran McGruder after deal comes unraveled

Pistons at Jazz

Tipoff: 9 p.m. Friday, Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah

TV/radio: BSD-Plus/950

Outlook: The Pistons (11-33) ended their 10-game losing streak in the head-to-head series against the Jazz (29-16) with their win Jan. 10. They’ll be going for their first season sweep since 2016.

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