The Pistons didn’t tank tonight.
Whether you find it terrifying they could lose 91-80 to Minnesota or comforting they increased in their lottery odds, I really don’t believe the Pistons tanked tonight. Here’s what I wrote about the Pistons tanking during their 32-point loss to the Hawks the night before:
Here’s my guess – and it’s nothing more than that: Frank thought he could implement the coaching part of tanking (using suboptimal lineups) without the players exercising their part of tanking (not playing hard).
It didn’t work.
The players quit, and that’s why Frank was so terse after the game. Frank stuck his toes in the tanking pool against a playoff opponent rather than jumping in against another tanking team, Cleveland, the previous night. I don’t think he has the stomach for it, and I think the Pistons’ regular rotation players – plus Vernon Macklin – will play bigger minutes against the Timberwolves tonight.
Frank then went about proving his anti-tanking credentials and my prediction, starting by going out of his way before tonight’s game to say the Pistons didn’t tank yesterday. Then, he tightened his rotation. Against Minnesota. On April 19.
Through three quarters, Austin Daye (30 minutes yesterday), Will Bynum (16 minutes yesterday) and Walker Russell (12 minutes yesterday) hadn’t played, Macklin (23 minutes yesterday) had played three minutes and Damien Wilkins (19 minutes yesterday) had played four minutes.
It appeared the Pistons on the court were trying, though their ineffectiveness led to what might have looked like a sign of tanking – Charlie Villanueva playing 23 minutes, many of them at center – but wasn’t actually tanking.
That was just the Pistons’ lack of athleticism being amplified by playing their third game game in three nights and facing an athletic opponent. Besides Tayshaun Prince (18 points, five rebounds and three assists), who rested yesterday, the Pistons looked shockingly slow. Especially with Ben Wallace out to attend a funeral, the slender Villanueva was necessary at center.
The Pistons trailed by 20 before Frank went deeper down the bench during the fourth quarter – as practically any coach would on practically any team in practically any situation – bringing in Bynum, who made the score somewhat respectable.
The Pistons were that hapless against the Timberwolves, a tanking expert who went 0-24 in their previous two Aprils. At least Detroit lost, guaranteeing it can’t finish with a better record than Minnesota.
I don’t begrudge the Pistons for refusing to tank (or at least refusing to take extreme tanking measures), and I wouldn’t be upset if they returned to tanking like they apparently did in Atlanta. Really, I’m ambivalent on their method.
But the Timberwolves, when healthy, are better than the Pistons right now, and Minnesota has a better group of young players. It would be a shame if they got a higher draft pick, too. As pointed out by Max, the Hornets own Minnesota’s first-round pick.
I’m happy the Pistons didn’t try to lose tonight, but I’m even happier they lost.
Most Valuable Player
Nikola Pekovic. Jose Juan Barea (13 points and 12 assists) and Anthony Randolph (15 points and 10 rebounds) had double-doubles, but Pekovic (23 points and nine rebounds) dominated inside – especially with the game close.
Least Valuable Player
Brandon Knight (2-of-12 shooting, one assist in 27 minutes). Knight’s struggles, given that he’s a rookie, are understandable, but they look even worse considering…
Will Bynum. Bynum didn’t play until the fourth quarter, but he finished with 17 points and almost single-handedly engineered a Detroit comeback.