Joe Dumars’ plan appears in loss to Nets, but Pistons still aren’t good

Maybe Joe Dumars had a plan, after all. I know many of you don’t want to believe that, but use your imagination for just a moment. His plan probably looked something like this:

And for most of the game, that’s what the Pistons had. The signs of progress were present.

But progress doesn’t mean good, and the Pistons don’t appear to be good. Improved, yes. Good, no.

When you’re not good, it doesn’t matter how well your general manager’s plan unfolds, you can’t surrender every loose ball to your opponents down the stretch. You can’t allow them to go on an 11-0 run within the last two minutes. You can’t miss five of your last seven free-throw attempts.

But the Pistons did all those things, and that’s why they lost to the Nets, 101-98, in a surprisingly well-played game last night.

Ben Wallace played the excellent defense Pistons fans expect from him. But Prince and Hamilton were the catalysts for Detroit’s excellent team defense. They were always in the right spots and gave the Nets very little room to operate.

Gordon made 5-of-6 shots for 12 points and had three assists. When the Nets had trouble staying with him, he scored. When they played him tightly, he made the right pass. It was an excellent offensive night for Gordon.

Villanueva, who scored 14 points, also played well on that side of the court. He took nine 3-pointers, but don’t read too much into that. By my count, three of those came when the Pistons were down late, two were forced, and he went 3-of-4 on 3-pointers within the offense. The Nets also appeared to pay extra attention to him inside. Yes, I could live without those two forced shots, but Villanueva made positive offensive contributions.

Stuckey really set the tone. He knew when to attack and when to pass offensively, finishing with 14 points (4-of-10 from the field, 5-of-6 from the line), seven assists and no turnovers. Defensively, he pushed Devin Harris around for much of the game.

This was a night the Pistons, who had only six turnovers, did a lot of things right. They looked crisp, especially for the first game of the season.

But they lost focus in those final few minutes, erasing the positives of the rest of the game. Detroit isn’t good enough for that to happen and win, especially on the road.

The good news is the Pistons aren’t as lifeless as last year. The bad news is that’s not necessarily enough to make the postseason.

For a team that will have to fight to make the cusp of the playoffs, every game matters. An 0-1 start obviously isn’t the end of the world (despite what you read about the Heat last night).

But it makes the Pistons quest this year even more challenging – and that’s the last thing they need.

Can an old dog learn a new trick?

Ben Wallace is still Ben Wallace – for good and bad.

He was a force on the glass. His 10 rebounds sell him short, because he tipped even more. He played better defense than anyone else in this game. He also reminded me how excellent his screens are.

*The defense has a huge in advantage because it knows Wallace isn’t a threat on the roll or the pop. Yet, he still gives the ball handler space to operate.

But when the Nets went to Hack-a-Ben late in the fourth quarter, those results were predictable, too. He made just 1-of-4 free throws before being removed from the game.

Wallace does a lot of good for the Pistons, but this is his chance to do even more.

I have no doubt Wallace sets an excellent example in the weight room. But you know what? He’s already strong. I think he likes lifting. I think he likes having the nickname “Body.” I think he likes being strong enough to intimidate opponents.

I don’t think he likes working on his free throws quite as much.

Do you think Rodney Stuckey likes harnessing his aggressiveness in order to initiate the offense? Do you think Austin Daye likes boxing out power forwards? Do you think Charlie Villanueva likes playing defense?

Probably not. But they try to do those things to give their team its best chance to win.

It would send in an incredibly strong message if, when the Pistons come to their next practice, they see Wallace taking free throws.

Better yet, I hope they see him working with a psychiatrist on them. I’m serious.

Wallace struggled to hit the rim on his attempts last night. He’s not a good shooter, but he’s not that bad. He clearly has a mental block.

Ron Artest worked with a therapist, and that has made him a better player. In the macho culture of professional sports, Artest is a pioneer. People laughed when he thanked his therapist after winning the title. I saluted him.

Wallace has an opportunity, by leading through example, to help the Pistons become a mentally sharper team. I don’t expect him to take it, and I won’t blame him if he doesn’t. Most professional athletes wouldn’t.

But the opportunity is there.

Tracy McGrady makes Pistons debut

Tracy McGrady made several good passes. He had three assists (and more passes that led to free throws) and no turnovers. He also played the passing lanes well, collecting two steals.

He played within himself, missing three shots in 14 minutes.

Really, I guess that’s fine. But it was sort of like watching Superman win a bocce ball tournament. After seeing him fly, take bullets without wincing and melt things with his eyes, bocce ball just isn’t that exciting.

For the most part, he looked like someone with “tired legs” who’s still smart enough to make plays, anyway.

In the second quarter, McGrady had position on Johan Petro for a rebound coming toward them and nobody else. All McGrady had to do was turn around and box out, and the rebound was easily his. Instead, he fouled Petro. Given his physical ability, McGrady probably made the smart choice, preventing a fastbreak opportunity. But most NBA players could just get the rebound.

That play about summed up the negatives of McGrady’s night.

During the broadcast, the word was Arnie Kander said McGrady won’t be at full strength until midseason. Expect more games likes this from McGrady for a while.

Again, if playing time was supposed to be dictated by performance, why is McGrady playing?

Daye-zed

Austin Daye started at power forward and had a favorable matchup with Joe Smith. Daye will be overmatched every night he starts at power forward (more on this tomorrow), but this was about as good as it will for him. Smith doesn’t want to bang inside.

But then the Nets brought in Derrick Favors, who bullied Daye. The Pistons pulled Daye late in the first quarter, and he didn’t return until the second half.

Besides his defensive shortcomings, Daye looked rattled on offense. He missed six of his eight shots and didn’t get to the line.

Quite simply, Daye didn’t look like he was ready to start, or maybe even be in the rotation.

Didn’t the Pistons sign Ben Gordon for games like this?

When he was with the Bulls, Ben Gordon built a reputation as a fearless player, someone willing to take the big shots. John Kuester seems to buy that, playing Gordon the entire fourth quarter.

But after making his first three shots of the fourth quarter and drawing a foul on the fourth shot, Gordon didn’t shoot in the final six minutes of the game.

Villanueva took the Pistons’ final three shots, all 3-pointers, before their final possession. At least two of those plays seemed to be designed for him.

Gordon appeared to be the first option on the Pistons’ final shot, and I even thought he was open near the top of the key. But Tayshaun Prince didn’t hit him with the pass. It almost looked like like the play started before Prince was ready.

I can’t complain too much. Stuckey had a good look from the corner, given the situation.

But I can’t help but feel like Gordon was underutilized down the stretch.

Pick-and-roll defense

The Pistons pick-and-roll defense was pretty poor, especially in the third quarter, when Devin Harris ran a clinic.

It wasn’t completely Rodney Stuckey’s fault. Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Richard Hamilton all had turns on Harris. The Pistons even went to zone, too.

But Harris was too quick around the screens, too smooth on his jumpers and too accurate on his passes to a cutting Brook Lopez.

New Villanueva

After his summer of rededication to being a big man, Charlie Villanueva didn’t prove much one way or the other tonight.

Notching a steal and block, but too often playing his man too loose, his defense was a mixed bag. I’ll call that an improvement. The minuses still outweighed the plusses, though.

He had only three rebounds in 23 minutes. That number probably needs to improve.

Second unit

The Pistons played five reserves – Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Tracy McGrady, Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell – to begin the second quarter.

Thanks to some pretty terrible defense, the group promptly allowed the Nets to open the quarter on an 8-2 run. But somehow, the unit outscored the Nets, 34-25, in 13:46.

Still, the lineup choice didn’t make much sense to me, and I’m not confident in it going forward.

Why pair the smallest guards, Will Bynum and Ben Gordon? Why pair the leanest forwards, Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince?

I have no problem with the starting lineup, in and of itself, because most teams mix and match their starters and reserves throughout the game. But if Kuester plans to play the starters and reserves as separate units, I think they need tinkering.

Third-quarter dud

The Nets’ best quarter was the third, when they outscored Detroit, 31-20. Last year, I complained the Pistons struggled to make adjustments at halftime, especially when they were winning.

One game is much too small of a sample size to judge something like this, I’ll be keeping my eye on it.

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Tags: Austin Daye Ben Gordon Ben Wallace Charlie Villanueva Greg Monroe Jason Maxiell John Kuester Richard Hamilton Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince Tracy McGrady

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