Pistons limit Dwight Howard, but Magic exploit flaw in Detroit’s defense


Maybe the Pistons can still contain Dwight Howard, after all.

It wasn’t long ago the Pistons gave Howard – and by extension the Magic – more trouble than any team in the NBA. Detroit limited him while defending him one-on-one. That allowed the other four Pistons on the court to excel.

Often, the latter part of that equation – the other four players dominating – was lost in the discussion. After all, it’s understandable slowing the game’s top center steals the headlines.

But the other side was essential to all those wins, and that should be clear after the Pistons’ uneven defensive performance tonight led to a 90-79 defeat – their fourth straight loss to the Magic.

The glass-half-full version of the defense: Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe played excellently on Dwight Howard inside.

The glass-half-empty version: the rest of the team struggled to defend the perimeter.

This was the Pistons’ best game for interior defense of the year. Wallace often kept Howard a few feet farther from the basket than he’d like to be and did so on his own. Monroe needed more help at times, but his relentless energy forced a couple steals and prevented Howard from getting comfortable.

Together, they held Howard to season lows for points (nine) and free-throw attempts (two). Howard also matched a season high with six turnovers.

Tonight should serve as a reminder of what the Pistons have defensively – Wallace can still bring it – and what they will have – Monroe always played hard, and once he adds a little strength, look out. I didn’t think Monroe was ready for a matchup like this. He was.

But tonight unfortunately also serves as a remind of what the Pistons have: a poor perimeter defense.

The Pistons entered the game with the league’s best 3-point defense (.301) – a fool’s gold stat. Detroit’s opponents don’t need to shoot a lot of 3-pointers.

The Pistons’ opponents make 17.2 shots at the rim per game, second most in the league behind the Knicks. When you consider how much faster the Knicks play than the Pistons, Detroit is probably the worst team in the league at defending the rim.

So, teams only shoot 3-pointers against the Pistons when the primary option – dunks and layups – fails. Credit Detroit for taking away Orlando’s primary option, but when push came to shove, the Pistons got shoved. The Magic made 10-of-24 3-pointers.

Despite the 11-point margin of defeat, the Pistons really made Orlando earn the victory. For a half, they looked like the team they used to be. For a half, they looked like the team they are.

I suppose, that’s as much as we can hope for in games like these.

Rashard Lewis goes off… against Charlie Villanueva

A lot of Pistons fans, myself included, have given John Kuester plenty of grief this season. Some of it’s deserved, but I think a lot of it is unfairly based on hindsight. So, I’m happy to do the opposite here.

I was wrong in the preview of tonight’s game. If you missed it, I said:

"Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. I repeat: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis. One more time in case you missed it: Jason Maxiell does not matchup well with Rashard Lewis.Kuester initially said Maxiell was starting because of matchups. If he starts tonight, it’s because Kuester believes he’s better right now than Austin Daye. There’s no other way to spin it.I hope Daye or Charlie Villanueva gets the nod. Maxiell, even with his smaller size, would probably be the Pistons’ best match off the bench for Dwight Howard."

Lewis led the Magic with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, but a bulk of that damage came with Villanueva, not Maxiell, guarding him.

Against Maxiell, Lewis shot 4-of-7 for nine points in 17:49.

Against Villanueva, Lewis shot 3-of-3 for 11 points in 10:30.

I don’t mean this to be a knock on Villanueva, by the way. He played very well tonight, doing a little bit of everything – scoring inside and outside, rebounding, hustling and, yes, playing defense. (Villanueva had two blocks and a steal.) But his strong defense just didn’t come against Lewis.

So, Kuester was right to have Maxiell guard Lewis for a majority of the Magic forward’s minutes.

Tayshaun Prince takes point-guard duties from Rodney Stuckey

Tayshaun Prince has become the Pistons’ point guard in the halfcourt. Rodney Stuckey often dribbled the ball up court tonight, only to pass to Prince, who initiated the offense.

This is a lot of praise for John Kuester in one post, especially after a loss, but I love the strategy for a few reasons.

1. Stuckey can attack unsuspecting defenses. By bringing the ball up himself, he still has the option to drive to the basket if the defense isn’t set. He’s done that quite a bit this season, with good results.

2. Stuckey plays better off the ball. I still think he has more potential as a point guard than an off guard, but he’s definitely better off the ball right now. Last year, he played at his best next to Chucky Atkins, and this plan creates similar opportunities for Stuckey.

3. Prince stays engaged in the game. It happened in the best of times, but it’s been more common now: Prince resigns himself to being a secondary option and his focus and intensity dwindle. But if you force the ball into his hands, that’s less likely to happen. He hustled tonight, even stopping a four-on-one fastbreak in the first quarter.

I criticized the Pistons’ lack of roles earlier in the day, but I love this. I think there’s a clear distinction, though.

Often, the Pistons ask their players to do a little bit of everything. I don’t think that’s a sound strategy. But that doesn’t mean having players who can do multiple things and play multiple positions is a negative.

The Pistons are clearly telling Stuckey to bring the ball up court. They’re clearly telling Prince to initiate the offense.

Traditionally, teams have one player do that, but so what? Redefining roles is absolutely fine.

It’s just important to have roles.

Ben Gordon doesn’t kill Pistons’ chances, and that’s a mild victory

Ben Gordon missed his first two shots – in rather ugly fashion, at that. But then he drilled a 3-pointer on his third shot.

That ability for Gordon not to let slow starts sink him has been a nice improvement this year.

He only made 4-of-10 shots tonight, but he stayed above the Diawara Line with a .479 true-shooting percentage. Basically, that means he did enough not to destroy the Pistons’ chances of winning.

Gordon has now surpassed the Diawara Line in 83.3 percent of his games, a very solid mark.

Not much from Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady didn’t excel against another of his former teams like he did against the Knicks on Sunday. He had three points (1-of-4 shooting), three rebounds, two assists and a team-worst minus-11 plus-minus rating in 16 minutes.

So much for the extra-motivation theory.

Ben Wallace rides the bench down the stretch

Ben Wallace didn’t play in the fourth quarter. Again.

Is it time to follow up with John Kuester about whether there’s really nothing to it?