Detroit Pistons’ knack of making games appear closer than they really are continues in loss to Los Angeles Lakers

So … how about that Jared Sullinger?

At least people won’t grasp at straws based on how well the bench played after the Pistons’ second unit combined to shoot 14-for-42 in the team’s 103-90 loss to the Lakers Wednesday.

The outcome isn’t a surprise. For the third time this season, the Pistons played a team that is among the league’s elite. For the third time (following losses to Boston and Portland), the Pistons were never in the game.

Rip Hamilton was ejected about five minutes into the game, and maybe having an extra taller defensive player to throw at Kobe Bryant would’ve mattered, but it’s doubtful considering how well everyone on the Lakers played and how poorly everyone on the Pistons played. There isn’t much to analyze in the loss. The Pistons didn’t move the ball well. They didn’t defend. And those two things aren’t much different than a lot of games this season, but the difference was the Pistons compounded the problems by not making shots. With Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey on the roster, the Pistons can usually count on at least one or two of them to have a reasonably solid game. But Prince was the only one of those players who shot above 42 percent, so that was the ballgame.

Vince Ellis of the Free Press Tweeted this before the game tonight:

Here come the fire Kuester e-mails. Like I said, not happening as long as team still competing.

I point this out not because I’m going to be one of those ‘Fire Everyone!’ type of people. Frankly, the ‘Fire Kuester!’ and ‘Fire Dumars!’ crowds drive me a little insane. But I just don’t understand how this team can be called competitive right now. Let’s check the body of work through their eight losses:

  • New Jersey and Oklahoma City: They were both games that a good team would’ve closed out and won, but that’s another debate. The Pistons were competitive in these games.
  • Chicago: Out-scored 57-28 in the second half. I understand the Pistons led big in the first half. But they lost this game by 10. Competing hard for the first half of a game and then getting out-scored by almost 30 in the second half = not competitive.
  • Boston: Celtics won by 23 and won every quarter, even the fourth, when Boston was deep into its bench.
  • Atlanta: Similar story to Chicago, except the Pistons had a smaller first half lead. Atlanta won the second half 50-37. Not competitive.
  • Portland: This was another blowout. Portland led by 11 after one, eight at the half, 11 after three and won by 22.
  • Golden State: A bad fourth quarter by the Warriors’ bench made this a close game in the closing minutes. Competing for one quarter = not competitive.
  • LA Lakers: The Pistons bench out-scored the Lakers bench by eight in the fourth quarter to make a blowout look like slightly less of a blowout. Not competitive.

I’m not an overly negative, complain about everything type of Pistons follower. But it’s absurd to call a team that has eight losses, six of them some variation of a blowout or a second half no-show, in 12 games competitive. It’s insulting to the intelligence of reasonable and unreasonable people alike to call the team competitive.

Last year’s Pistons team was really bad, but on many nights with an injury depleted lineup forcing them to play guys like Chucky Atkins and Chris Wilcox big minutes, they were competitive. Guys like Jonas Jerebko and Will Bynum and Ben Wallace played their hearts out in more losing causes than I care to go back and count. Even Stuckey, for as poorly as he played much of last season, played with effort, often taking a beating as the only remote scoring threat the Pistons had to put on the floor at times. That team played competitively for much of the season, even if they were no good.

This team? The one that has all of the key players who missed time last season back at full strength? The team that has had at least three public player-vs.-coach feuds in the last month? The one that is so segmented that you wonder if half of the locker room hates the other half’s guts? They are not competitive. They have underachieved to this point. Even if the team wasn’t going to be good regardless of those non-basketball things that keep happening, they should be better than this. They should seem more interested than this. And they shouldn’t come out completely disinterested every single time they play an elite team. Usually the opposite happens. Great title contending team like the Lakers on the road against a not good team in November? It’s typically the team like the Lakers that comes out flat as the not good team starts off with a flurry to prove everyone who thinks the team is lousy wrong. Three times, teams that all have much bigger games to look forward to, have much bigger concerns than the Pistons, have come out and pretty much established that they were going to win within the first 10 minutes or so of the game.

Nothing about the Pistons right now can be described as competitive.

So how about that Chris Wilcox?

The most impressive stat of the night? How about Wilcox finishing with a +4 +/- rating in his first action of the season. As you can tell, there weren’t really any positive stats to pull out of this one. But don’t undersell the accomplishment. Wilcox had the worst per-minute +/- rating of any Piston last season. He could step on the court and pretty much be guaranteed at least a -4. I don’t know how much Wilcox will continue to play, he’s pretty obviously the last man in the rotation. But he got about three minutes of action, was active and only took one poor shot.

McGrady seems OK

Tracy McGrady had to leave the game after rolling his ankle, and he looked to be in a lot of pain at the time, but he did end up returning. After the game on FSD, he didn’t seem too concerned about either the ankle or his knee, which he said he has "no issues" with right now.

What happened to Villanueva?

Man. I thought Villanueva and I had turned a corner. The problem that has plagued him throughout his career has been maddening inconsistency. We saw it in full effect last season, when he spent part of January looking like and All-Star and then February looking like he’d have a hard time making a D-League roster. He’s the definition of streaky, which is what made his first 11 games of the season so impressive. They weren’t all great performances, but he had avoided the really bad ones. Against the Lakers, he had his worst shooting night of the season. The Pistons need to win Sunday against Washington. They have some needed rest after their road trip and tonight’s game, but Villanueva is the individual who most definitely needs a bounce back game Sunday. He’s had a propensity in the past to let a bad shooting game turn into a prolonged shooting slump. If he plays strong on Sunday, it will go a long way in determining if he’s really turning a corner this season or if he still has all the same holes in his game.

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Tags: Charlie Villanueva Chris Wilcox John Kuester Richard Hamilton Tracy McGrady

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