Pistons reinforce perception – mostly positive – in loss to Jazz

The Pistons 105-90 loss to the Jazz tonight didn’t say much about Detroit we didn’t already know – or at least suspect – but games likes this are always useful for establishing and affirming opinions.

Significant team-wide progress, but not season-altering progress

The Pistons can compete game in, game out. They’re legitimately a better team than earlier in the season, when they frequently lost by 15-plus.

For much of the game, the Pistons looked about even with the Jazz – who have an outside shot of the playoffs in the Western Conference – and honestly, I’m not sure which team is better right now.

But the game was in Utah, where the Pistons hadn’t won since John Stockton was still playing. Really, the game’s location didn’t, as long as it was outside The Palace, where the Pistons did a bulk of the work in getting their record out of the cellar. Tonight, Detroit became unsettled late as the Jazz got sharper and ended the game on a 16-2 run.

The Pistons, like most bad teams, aren’t good on the road.

Yes, the Pistons have improved significantly during the season. Yes, they’re still bad. But’s better than being horrible.

And they’re still headed for the lottery.

Rodney Stuckey has probably turned a corner

Rodney Stuckey (29 points, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals and one turnovers) was the best Piston on the floor. That won’t happen every night, but it’s no longer that noteworthy.

He’s attacking with more force and balance, and that’s a big reason he’s getting to the line so often (9-of-11 tonight). He’s even making difficult interior shots when his drives don’t draw fouls.

I still want to see a larger sample before declaring Stuckey has finally taken that elusive “next step.” It’s still Rodney Stuckey, after all. But, at this point, I’ll be surprised if he hasn’t.

The Pistons need a defensive big man

Stuckey wasn’t the best player on the floor because Al Jefferson (33 points on 14-of-18 shooting and 12 rebounds) dominated the Pistons. Greg Monroe was overmatched, and I actually thought Monroe made a decent effort to defend Jefferson. Ben Wallace had his turn on Jefferson, too, and was probably a little more effective.

But the real answer for players like Jefferson isn’t on the roster today. Hopefully, he comes in the upcoming draft.

Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight are growing together

Greg Monroe (14 points, five rebounds and five assists) had one of his better passing games. We all know he’s a good passer, and it’s just a matter of learning how to use all the offensive weapons he’s unleashed this year.

It was especially encouraging that three of Monroe’s assists went to Brandon Knight for two 3-pointers and layup. By all accounts, the Pistons are building around those two, and ‘it’s great to see them develop an on-court chemistry.

Ben Gordon can fill a role

Ben Gordon scored 12 points on 10 shots. In the first half, he was aggressive in looking for his shot and was better for it. Gordon can still get going, and even if his peak isn’t what it once was and even if his on nights come less frequently, he can still be a good scorer off the bench.

He also had a nice assists to an open Jonas Jerebko (more on that shot in the next section) when the Jazz defense collapsed on him. Gordon is actually a good passer as far as finding open guys and the getting ball through tight spaces, but he also makes too many careless and risky passes.

Essentially, Gordon should think score first, score second and pass third. When the defense has limited his first two scoring looks, someone will probably be open, and Gordon can make that pass.

Jonas Jerebko needs better court awareness

Jonas Jerebko probably leads the league in shots taken with a foot on the 3-point arc. If he doesn’t, it’s only because he doesn’t shoot a ton. But he must lead the league in percentage of shots taken with a foot on the 3-point arc.

He had another tonight, on the assist from Ben Gordon. Lawrence Frank needs to work with Jerebko on fixing this.

Jazz trick Pistons

The Jazz had the ball late in the first half with the shot clock off. I’m not sure who it was, but someone yelled, “High pick and roll coming your way!” It was probably a Pistons assistant coach – I don’t think it sounded like Lawrence Frank – but it could have been a Jazz coach playing mind games or an astute fan.

Anyway, whoever yelled it certainly looked to be correct. Devin Harris dribbled between halfcourt and the top of the 3-point arc, inching closer like he was waiting for a screen that Paul Millsap was heading out from the paint to set. Jason Maxiell followed Millsap out, fully prepared to defend the pick and roll.

Then, suddenly, Millsap turned back to the basket – Maxiell stuck with all his momentum carrying him toward center court – and elevated to catch an alley-oop from Harris.

Maxiell got fooled, but that happens. More than anything, Utah’s play impressed me.

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Tags: Ben Gordon Ben Wallace Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Jason Maxiell Jonas Jerebko Lawrence Frank Rodney Stuckey

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