Miami — Because of injuries, the Pistons were winging it for a few stretches in Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat.
With injuries to Cade Cunningham, Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson, their only option available at shooting guard was Rodney McGruder. The situation forced some creative maneuvering by coach Dwane Casey, who inserted McGruder into the starting lineup.
McGruder had a sore hamstring from the past couple of games, and when he had a issue with it Tuesday, that pushed the Pistons to go to a hybrid lineup, with three forwards: Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Livers and Jerami Grant.
Adding to the difficulty was that Hayes and Joseph both were in foul trouble, and Hayes fouled out in the final minutes. They had to use different lineups, and some of that unfamiliarity could have led to some of the missed defensive assignments that helped the Heat surge in the fourth quarter.
Casey said it’s part of the process of trying to work around injuries and take a look at some different scenarios with those players.
“It’s not the players’ fault; it’s a lot of factors. Everybody’s going through this. It’s a great experience for us to be able to see a lineup like that, and there were some good things too,” Casey said Tuesday. “We did some good things. We pounded the boards pretty good in that stretch (with that lineup) … We’ll look at some different lineups in different situations, out of necessity, as much as anything else.”
Cunningham was out because of a non-COVID injury, and he’s been upgraded to questionable for Thursday’s matchup against the Orlando Magic. Additionally, McGruder is listed as questionable. Having two options at shooting guard still will be difficult, but using what they saw Tuesday, the Pistons can work out some of the bugs with their big lineup.
“Shout out to coach Casey. He did a really good job with the rotation, trying to keep everybody as fresh as possible with the circumstances that we were in,” Livers said. “We knew what it was going to be when we came into the game. I feel like everybody handled their assignment the right way. … People were definitely tired, but you’ve got to fight through because it is what it is.”
Livers steps against Heat
Even though they were shorthanded, the Pistons didn’t give up the fight, using a 19-0 run toward the end of the third quarter to get back into the game and to set up a back-and-forth final quarter of the game.
Livers had his best career game, going 6-of-7 from the field, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. He was impressive on the defensive end of the court, but his offense also aided in the comeback.
“We were doing down (players), so I knew I was going to step up being a young guy. I’m always ready to play and coach Casey knows that,” Livers said. “It was tough. I feel like we had them at certain points and missed an assignment or two. Those threes go a long way.”
The Heat, who have the top record in the Eastern Conference, played without Jimmy Butler in the second half, and the Pistons made it a close game. In the past few weeks, the Pistons have played well against some playoff-bound teams, and Casey is using that as fuel to show them that they have a bright future ahead in the rebuild.
“I liked our resilience. We bounced back and we kept playing. We didn’t drop our heads. They’re a very good team; they’re No. 1 in the East for a reason,” Casey said. “I liked the way we played, but I told our guys this time next year, we’re not going to be satisfied being close, and we should never be satisfied being close.”
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Pistons at Magic
Tipoff: 7:30 Thursday, Amway Center, Orlando
Outlook: The only game on the NBA slate features two of the worst records, with the Magic (18-52) and Pistons (18-51). Orlando gave up 60 points to the Brooklyn Nets, including 60 points by Kyrie Irving, on Tuesday.