Detroit Pistons suffer frontloaded schedule, most games in NBA. They’re feeling effects

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons have seesawed in their consistency over the past two weeks. They picked up wins over the Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors, but suffered double-digit losses to the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers.

Sunday’s 123-111 home loss to the Sixers, who were without Joel Embiid, was their third defeat in four games. The Pistons’ lack of quarter-to-quarter effort could be chalked up to inexperience. It could also be a byproduct of their schedule, which hasn’t been kind through their first 45 games.

They didn’t have much time to prepare against the Sixers, as they arrived from San Antonio at 4 a.m. Saturday and then had a walkthrough Sunday before the game. That was after the Pistons canceled practice Thursday, to travel and catch up on rest after switching time zones from Minneapolis to Portland earlier in the week. They looked lifeless vs. the Spurs on Friday, and turned the ball over 22 times against the Sixers in a game they trailed by as many as 23 points.

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All of their miscues can’t be blamed on the schedule, as coach Dwane Casey made clear after Sunday’s game. All teams deal with difficult travel through the course of a season. But the Pistons’ schedule has been uniquely jam-packed and they’re feeling the effects.

“Our travel has been horrendous,” Casey said before Sunday’s game. “It’s not an excuse, but traveling into San Antonio, our traveling getting back here at (4) in the morning and then having a 3 o’clock game today, the computer wasn’t good to us in that situation as far as the schedule.”

The Pistons (11-32) have endured a frontloaded schedule thanks to their midseason trip to Paris, Jan. 19 vs. the Chicago Bulls. It will be their only game during an eight-day stretch, and the NBA compensated by having them play the most games in the league through this point.

Sunday was their 43rd game in the season. They’ve played 24 road games, and 19 home games. No other team in the East has played more than 41 games. The Pistons have also played nine of their scheduled 13 back-to-backs.

They’re coming off a road trip that saw them play back-to-back Central Time games against the Bulls and Timberwolves on Dec. 30 and 31, two Pacific Time games against the Trail Blazers and Warriors on Jan. 2 and 4, and then fly back to Central Time to face the Spurs on Friday, before flying back to Detroit.

NBA players are professional athletes, but still get worn down by travel. And the Pistons, who were without rookie Jalen Duren on Sunday due to left foot soreness, are withstanding a tough schedule and injuries at the same time. They’re also without Marvin Bagley III until the end of February, and Cade Cunningham is for the season.

“That’s a lot of it,” Casey said of the Pistons’ lack of energy. “The rookie wall. Duren, don’t want anybody to get hurt with his ankle, but he needed that. He was in that rookie malaise, so to speak. (Jaden) Ivey may be getting there also, been there. It’s no excuse, but when you’re rebuilding, the young guys are playing a lot of minutes, that’s going to be a byproduct of it sometimes. Being young or old, some of the mistakes we’re making turning the ball over directly to their team are inexcusable.”

The Sixers, led by a 20-point, 11-assist, 11-rebound triple-double by James Harden, closed the second quarter with a 16-2 run to take control of the game. The Pistons’ 22 turnovers tied a season-high, and led to 21 Sixers points.

The Pistons won’t get much of a break this week. They’ll have a non-practice day Monday to catch up on some rest, and will then fly to Philadelphia for a game Tuesday, before flying home to play the Timberwolves on Wednesday. They’ll then presumably take Thursday off before hosting the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday. Then, they’ll have a 1 p.m. home matinee against the New York Knicks on Sunday before flying to Paris.

Thankfully, the schedule will ease soon and make up for a crazy first half. Tuesday and Wednesday will be their 10th back-to-back set, but they’ll only have three more through the rest of the season. And their next won’t be until Feb. 3 and 4.

“I don’t know how much we’re going to practice, because we have another game on Tuesday, then a back-to-back,” Casey said of Monday. “We’re down men. We’ll get some things going again, and work defensively on certain situations, show film. It won’t be a two-hour practice just because it’s physically impossible to manage the schedule. It’s catching up with us, so we have to be smart as far as the energy and what we use our energy on, where we use it at.”

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