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Soft Pistons defense drops team below .500

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Pistons' slow start and shaky defense leads to loss in Washington. Sound familiar?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

New face but same storyline.

John Wall and the Washington Wizards handed the Detroit Pistons an ugly 98-86 loss, ruining the impressive debut of new Piston, Tobias Harris. The loss dropped the Pistons below .500, who now sit at 27-28.

Recent trade deadline moves raised eyebrows around the league and made the Pistons a legitimate talking point around the water cooler, which considering the previous seven years, is kind of a big deal. In essence, the easy part is complete. On paper, they're a formidable team and set to compete for the foreseeable future. The hard part, however, is backing up what's on paper.

Average teams will give a singular effort on any particular defensive play. Good teams will give second and third efforts. Great teams don't keep track of effort because it's assumed. On any given night, the Pistons can raise their defensive level to good but recently it's been stuck in average, if that.

The tricky part is establishing the "why." As in: why does this keep happening?

All season long, the Pistons have been killed by opposing guard penetration. A simple breakdown on the perimeter will ignite a domino effect of defensive gaffes and ugly blunders. Knowing this makes players like John Wall giddy in the pregame warmup line. Wall finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists but those numbers don't do him justice; the All-Star point guard controlled the game and dictated pace the entire night.

Wall and Ramon Sessions, whose one serviceable skill is penetration, carved up the their Piston counterparts.

So, it that answer? Are the defensive woes due to a lackluster backcourt?

Not exactly.

In today's game with these athletes and offensive schemes, penetration is inevitable. No one is stopping John Wall by themselves. That means when a Wall-type player finds a crease and is attacking the rim, a Piston big, usually Andre Drummond or Aron Baynes must leave his man to slide over and stop the easy bucket. This exact moment is when the Pistons think the possession is over, after one collective effort.

Slow rotations (or no rotations) lead to easy looks for the offense; it has all year and it certainly did against the Wizards.

Coach Stan Van Gundy harps on effort and defense on a nightly basis (oddly, he wasn't available for comment after Friday night's game). The opponents change but the message doesn't; the same questions are met with the same answers after every Piston loss. We all love SVG (I mean LOVE) but SVG the coach must figure out a way to get through to the team that SVG the President has put together.

You can't solely blame Piston guards. You can't solely blame the Piston front court. The only way to right this ship is for the team to play as a team. Cliché? You betcha, but it's the hard truth.

The new guy

OK, let's cheer things up a bit.

Tobias Harris hit 9 of 12 shots and finished with a team high 21 points. That kind of efficiency is through the roof and obviously shouldn't be expected every night, but the way he put the ball in the basket was a nice surprise. Harris scored in almost every conceivable way: in the post, pull ups, floaters, driving to the hoop, finishing with his off hand, above the arc and at the free through line. It was quite the offensive debut for a player that figures to be a staple of Detroit basketball for the next few years. Coming into the game, his offensive versatility was a nice selling point but I didn't know it was like that.

There, that was positive, wasn't it?

Playoff bound?

Are these Pistons playoff bound? They're acting like it but sure aren't playing like it. Of course this franchise isn't in championship or bust mode, but anther year without a postseason run would be hard to stomach, especially when the opportunity is there for the taking. Making the playoffs would give this young core experience to lean on in the future, but that experience isn't gong to be handed to them. Laying an egg against a team like Washington not only hurts in the L column but also because it's a loss against a team playing catchup in the standings.

The team has 27 games to get their act right. The Pistons have played second third fourth fiddle in the city of Detroit for too long. Any kind of postseason play could start a true rebirth of local professional basketball. Piston talk at the water cooler should be the norm, but nights like Friday will make those chats less frequent.