Back with a Bang

Pistons get back to work in advance of critical 2-game set with Bobcats

John Loyer
John Loyer was busy over the All-Star break.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
John Loyer spent his All-Star break pushing a pencil on the changes he’d like to implement on both ends as the Pistons open the final 32 games with a critical two-game set against the team they’re battling for the No. 8 playoff seed.

Any grand scheming is tempered by this reality: He’ll have virtually no practice time at his disposal. The Pistons jump into the NBA’s “second half” – though the reality is they’re almost at the two-thirds pole with 50 games behind them – with both feet. They’ll host Charlotte on Tuesday, then fly to Charlotte immediately after the game for Wednesday’s return match against the Bobcats, who are one-half game ahead of them in the standings but even in the loss column.

“It’s a big game,” Loyer said. “It’s a big series. They’re a team we’re fighting with to get in the playoffs. When you play a team on a back to back it puts added meaning on a normal, regular-season game. We’re going to treat it like a two-game series and try to go get Game 1 and see what happens and try to get Game 2.”

Because the Pistons play five games over the next seven days, including another back-to-back home set Friday and Saturday, the Pistons won’t hold another practice until next Tuesday. So Monday’s late practice – pushed back to 5 p.m. to allow players who’d left town for the All-Star break to use the morning and early afternoon for return flights – went a full two hours, longer than typical for this time of the NBA season.

“We looked at a lot of things,” Loyer said. “One was the time. Really, this is the last practice we’re going to have for a while. A little longer than I’d like to do, but I told our guys we need it. There’s a lot of things we’ve got to cover, a lot of things we’ve got to clean up, a lot of things we’ve got to put in. We kind of looked at both sides of the ball – ways we can get better shots offensively and combinations and ways we can play better defense.”

Charlotte’s relative success this season – little was expected of the Bobcats under first-year and first-time head coach Steve Clifford – can be traced to their ability to do a few things very well. They’ve committed the fewest turnovers in the league, they’re fourth in points allowed and sixth in field-goal percentage defense, and they focus on defensive rebounding while virtually ceding the offensive glass in order to get back on defense.

“Steve Clifford’s done a great job with them,” Loyer said. “They’ve been towards the top in all the defensive categories, they make you work for every shot you get, they play hard every night. They have a marquee player at the point who’s hard to keep in front in Kemba Walker and then you’ve got a professional scorer in Al Jefferson on the block.”

When the Pistons got beat by Charlotte in December, losing a 20-point lead and getting outscored 45-17 down the stretch, the Bobcats got huge games out of their starting backcourt of Walker and Gerald Henderson (56 points on 20 of 30 shooting) and a huge fourth quarter from Jefferson. Henderson was the focal point of Charlotte’s offense early in each half, posting up on rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, since replaced as a starter by Kyle Singler, whose size should negate Henderson’s post scoring.

It’s a game that still sticks with the Pistons.

“That was a tough game for us,” Andre Drummond said. “We had the game won, but we made a couple of silly mistakes down the stretch of the game. We need these two wins to close the series out. We really need these next two wins to get ourselves going again.”

One change Loyer could be pondering: How to make full use of Andre Drummond’s wondrous skills. Drummond made a serious push for consideration as an All-Star this season, his candidacy undoubtedly hurt by the 22-30 record the Pistons compiled. But he served loud notice in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge, the entrée into All-Star Weekend, with a 30-point, 25-rebound, MVP-winning performance that his horizon is becoming his reality.

Drummond said Loyer stressed much greater ball movement and weak-side player movement in Monday’s practice, in addition to being vigilant about looking to exploit transition scoring chances. All of those areas play to Drummond’ strengths. In particular, the greater weak-side movement could create even more offensive rebounding opportunities for Drummond, who already leads the league by a wide margin.

“It definitely does,” he grinned. “I was excited.”

  • With the Pistons down two assistant coaches – Loyer’s elevation to head coach created one opening and Maz Trakh’s departure along with Maurice Cheeks the other – Loyer reached out to longtime NBA player and coach Scott Roth. Roth was with Toronto last season but wasn’t currently working. Loyer said Roth will be on the front row.

  • Pistons rookies Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell took part in Monday’s practice after being recalled from their second stints with Fort Wayne of the D-League.