Pistons loss to Pacers in opener leaves hopeless feeling

Hope, as it does annually, sprung for the Pistons. Unfortunately, it had a shelf life of about an hour.

Hope has expired.

None of those outcomes are off the table after only one game, but hope is.

After a 91-79 loss to the Pacers tonight, the Pistons are a longshot to make the playoffs. That shouldn’t be a surprise after the Pistons returned nearly the same roster from a 30-win team, but for anyone who was holding out at least some hope of a postseason run, tonight was a crushing blow.

More than any year since the lockout-shortened 1999 season, every game counts. A loss matters. A loss to team whose playoff spot the Pistons would like to steal matters more.

Obviously, the Pistons uninspiring performance matters much more than a single loss. The Pistons didn’t even look like a playoff team, or even close. Not even the most eternal optimist could claim the Pistons belong on the Pacers’ level, let alone the Eastern Conference’s upper tier.

Even at 66 games, it’s a long season. I caution against overreacting to just one game, and it’s possible everything bulleted above turns in the Pistons’ favor.  The Pistons could reasonably improve – and boy, they better. With 65 games left, a lot is still possible.

A dose of pragmatism is necessary.

Optimism is not.

Jonas Jerebko excels in return

Jonas Jerebko (7-of-11 for 17 points with five rebounds, an assist a steal and a block) was the Pistons’ best player tonight. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a positive or negative for the team.

For Jerebko, it’s fantastic.

He ran the floor with energy, shot well from outside and showed excellent activity defensively. It was great having him back, and he looks much more polished than he did two years ago.

Unfortunately, there were a couple kinks he didn’t show during his rookie season:

1. David West (11 points on 3-of-12 shooting and seven offensive rebounds) and Tyler Hansbrough (15 points on 6-of-14 shooting and five offensive rebounds) gave Jerebko a tough time in the paint. Jerebko’s active defense helped, but man-on-man, he was pretty up and down.

2. Jerebko showed a nice stroke on a couple nice long twos, but he must do a better job of recognizing where the 3-point line is.  For 50 percent more points, it would have been worth the slightly longer attempt.

Hopefully, that’s rust and nothing more.

Brandon Knight a work in progress

Brandon Knight was more down than up in his debut. He missed all three of his 2-point shots, turned the ball over four times and had no assists in 16 minutes. Offensively and defensively, he looked a bit lost. Perhaps, not too lost to see regular minutes – but probably too lost to run the offense for significant stretches.

On the plus side, he made 3-of-6 3-pointers to take advantage of what might be his biggest strength right now.

Rodney Stuckey steps up defensively, struggles offensively

Rodney Stuckey played strong defense, which he does fairly often. More than merely using his size and foot speed to stay between his man and the basket, his M.O., Stuckey harassed the Pacers effectively. His quick hands got a couple steals, and he deflected more balls.

His offense – despite a strong final line of 17 points and six assists – wasn’t as impressive. Outside of the game’s final 15 minutes – which the Pistons began down 24 and never threatened in – Stuckey scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting, attempted just two free throws, assisted four baskets and turned the ball over twice in 24 minutes. On the night, he missed four layups, including two the Pacers blocked.

I’m not faulting Stuckey for padding his stats, and that late play might be a real sign of progress for the late arrival to training camp. But I’d like to see better play with in a game still contested before I lavish praise.

Greg Monroe’s non-game

Greg Monroe’s season will start Wednesday against Cleveland, as far as I’m concern. Five fouls held Monroe to 21:39 – the least he’s played in his last 19 games. In fact, since New Year’s, Monroe played fewer minutes just twice.

He scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds tonight, but he barely impacted the game. It was hardly the performance I expected from Monroe, who’s coming off a strong rookie year looking to evolve into a more rounded player.

If foul trouble remains a concern, we’ll address it, but a few of Monroe’s fouls tonight seemed pretty touchy. I’d guess this was just a fluke.

Ben Wallace can still defend

Ben Wallace (seven rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes) provided a spark off the bench. He took a few minutes to warm up, but once he did, the Pistons’ defense picked up.

I’m not sure Wallace, 37, can handle an expanded load or back-to-backs, let alone back-to-back-to-backs. But for one night, it was nice to see he can still play.

Ben Gordon still can’t score

Ben Gordon (4-of-14, including 1-of-4 on 3-pointers, for 14 points with five turnovers) looked off. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, because he’s been off the last two years.

He’ll have good games, when he looks like the Bulls’ Ben Gordon, and everyone will get excited. But I fear games like this will be more common.

Transition perimeter defense

Lawrence Frank will have his hands full fixing the Pistons defense, but closing on the perimeter would be a great place to start. The Pacers shot 7-of-15 on 3-pointers, many of them coming on fastbreaks or semi-fastbreaks. Often, every Piston racing up the court went to the lane rather than identifying trailers.

Another approach to solving that issue would be preventing fastbreaks. The Pistons’ turnover rate (17.6) would’ve ranked last in the league last season. Hopefully, that’s a product of the lockout, but the Pacers didn’t have nearly the same trouble taking care of the ball.

Small play from small forwards

Tayshaun Prince (six points, three rebounds, two assists and a block) played a largely forgettable 34 minutes. His backup, Austin Daye (no points and a misleadingly high seven defensive rebounds*) didn’t do much, either. And third-string Damien Wilkins didn’t play.

*One came off a missed free throw. One came after a blocked shot. Three came when power forwards took jumpers and weren’t in the lane to crash the offensive glass. One came as the third quarter expired.

The Pistons need more production from that position.

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Tags: Ben Gordon Brandon Knight Jonas Jerebko Lawrence Frank Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince

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