By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – Even as the Detroit Pistons, losers of six of their last eight games, continue to seemingly careen toward a fifth straight year of missing the playoffs, they know there is still time to get back on track.
It starts with Friday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets (21-25), who are currently in line for the seventh Eastern Conference playoff spot, while the Pistons (19-29) sit on the outskirts behind Brooklyn and Charlotte.
With a win Friday, the Pistons could both propel themselves and deal a blow to Brooklyn.
“We just have to take care of the things that we’re capable of taking care of, and that is playing those teams like playing Brooklyn tomorrow and playing Charlotte after the break,” Detroit head coach Maurice Cheeks said Thursday after the team’s practice. “When we play them, we’ve got to make sure that they understand that those are teams that we need to beat in order to get ahead of them.”
All sorts of issues have plagued the Pistons this season, from horrible 3-point shooting to excessive turnovers to a recent short, in-game spat between Cheeks and guard Will Bynum. If Cheeks must pick one area of improvement, though, he wants better defense from his team.
“We’ve got to clean up our defense,” Cheeks said. “I think defense is a part of a thing that we can try and get a little better at, particularly our perimeter defense has to get a little bit better because they put so much pressure on our big guys when they break us down and they get inside our paint and they score inside the paint.
“I thought [Wednesday] our offense was a little bit better, although we didn’t continue scoring,” Cheeks continued. “I thought the pace of our offense was still good, Brandon [Jennings] pushing the ball up and Josh [Smith] the way he played, so I think the one area that we have to get better at is on the defense. We have to get better on defense and another area we have to get better rebounding the ball.”
Indeed, as badly as the Pistons have been shooting the 3-pointer, they have been defending it almost as poorly. Detroit is making just 30.6 percent of its long-range shots, while opponents are converting 36.6 percent of the time.
While Brooklyn might not seem like the most formidable opponent, with a record of 10-21 at the end of 2013, the Nets began 2014 on a 10-1 hot streak. In a tough three-game stretch that included Indiana and Oklahoma City, Brooklyn lost three straight, but the Nets won Monday against Philadelphia.
Cheeks said he is not surprised by the turnaround.
“Even when they were struggling, you knew they had veteran players,” Cheeks said. “You knew they had guys that at some point were going to get in position to turn it around a little bit because they have those kind of players that have been in winning situations, so at point you knew they were going to get themselves and right that ship at some point. Just a matter of time before they do.”
While the tale of Brooklyn’s turnaround might be encouraging for a team struggling like Detroit, the Pistons definitely need to rock Brooklyn’s boat Friday to spark their own resurgence and keep their playoff hopes alive.