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The Close Out: Another lost season brewing in Detroit

A 1-3 record last week puts the Pistons four games back of Miami for the final playoff spot.

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NBA: Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

At Los Angeles Lakers, at Indiana Pacers (up by 22 in the third quarter), at Dallas Mavericks, at Orlando Magic, at Chicago Bulls, vs. Charlotte Hornets, vs. Brooklyn Nets, vs. Utah Jazz (up nine with three minutes left), at Atlanta Hawks, at Charlotte Hornets and finally, at Orlando Magic (again).

By my count, there have been 11 games this season in which the Pistons had no business losing.

Keep in mind the disheartening tally doesn’t include games Detroit came out flat or looked completely disinterested like at home against Cleveland, Denver, Oklahoma City, the Clippers, New Orleans, Boston, and on the road in Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland. The outcome was decided long before the final buzzer in each of those. Put the two pitiful lists together and a healthy chunk of the season has been an absolute face palm.

Sure, some of those L’s have built in excuses, like schedule loss or getting acclimated to Blake Griffin or [insert lame excuse], but you know what loss owns no justification?

Last week’s loss in Orlando. Like, really, WTF?

Heading into the Florida road trip late last week, the Pistons were still capable of sneaking into the playoffs - which is a positive - even if it came in the form of a first round sacrificial lamb. If Detroit could just take care of business in the sunshine state, it would spark renewed interest in a fanbase (me, most importantly) desperate for something to cling to.

The Pistons, however, saw things differently.

Instead of a crucial business trip attitude, the Pistons treaded the two games in Orlando and Miami as leisurely pick-up game. Gee golly, it would sure be nice if we won these games. Shooting a combined 42 percent, Detroit’s offense sputtered down the stretch of both games while giving the ball up 33 times.

There is nothing I put less stock into than body language, but where the hell was the sense of urgency? Coaches and players alike took the (seemingly) season-ending losses in stride.

Well I’m glad you don’t care, but I’m on the hook to put together The Close Out each week.

So, with 19 games remaining and with the Pistons four games out of the final playoff spot, I’m switching things up in an effort to keep paying attention to another lost season.

Instead of rehashing Detroit’s mundane offense, we’ll focus on the opponents’ playbook. Rather than showing how Ish Smith gets beat on another mismatch, we’ll spotlight how the opponents can improve. And so on, and so on.

Unless the Pistons miraculously rise from the dead, this is how we’ll finish the year. Not your cup of tea? Hey, no hard feelings and I’ll catch you next year - go Tigers.

With that in mind, below, we’ll take a glance at how the Magic rely on Evan Fournier, explore how the Raptors benefited from Detroit’s lack of help defense, and why the Heat’s balanced attack was so hard to stop.

Inside the Pistons’ opponents playbook

Like any team, the Pistons’ opponents have a go-to collection of sets and play types. Here we’ll break down the plays used often by the Pistons’ opponents, along with variations and break down the process and the results.

The Toronto Raptors ended each quarter (that mattered) with a Spain pick-and-roll:

The play procured three favorable possessions and netted the Raptors five points. Loud and early communication is the only practical way to negate such a look and, well, the Pistons were a bit too quiet and a bit too late.

Not only did Kyle Lowry connect on six-of-eight shots from beyond the arc in the Raptors easy-breezy win, but just as important, he helped his buddy Serge Ibaka get his:

It’s good to have friends who will get you open. As a team, Toronto nailed 17-of-38 three-point attempts.

Eric Bledsoe finished with a team-high 19 points in the Bucks’ loss in Detroit with a steady amount of his possessions deriving from the pick-and-roll:

The ever-explosive Bledsoe reamins a handful, as he seems to be shot out of a cannon at times.

By design, the Bucks initiate clumps of offense below the break:

Doing so makes the defense susceptible to quick ball reversals and skip passes.

The Orlando Magic used Evan Fournier (and Mario Hezonja) as the recipient of a handful of pin downs, Floppy and Single-Double looks, making defending the curl of utmost importance. If the Pistons cheated the curl or screen, the Magic quickly located the weak link:

Fournier also screened the screener then made a beeline to the weakside corner:

It’s been the same aggravating story all season long: the Pistons can’t cover the roll without giving up the three-point look which included this backbreaking Fournier dagger:

Above, Nikola Vucevic’s roll grabs the attention of James Ennis as Fournier smartly shakes to the slot, making Ennis’ recovery effort that much harder. For Detroit, same story, same result only a different roller and different shooter.

The Miami Heat ran some Pistol action to great success:

Right or wrong, I always think of the Jeff Teague-era Hawks when it comes to Pistol (here).

And, like Fournier’s big shot, the Heat thrived beyond the arc when attention turned to the roller:

This Week’s Trends and Dead Ends

A closer look at the habits —both good and bad—of players, coaches, and maybe even DBB commentators. Discover what the Pistons’ opponents are doing really well, and understand what to look out for going forward.


Help the helper

In football, gang-tackling is preached as it’s assumed gifted ball-carriers will make the first person miss. Basketball shares a similar forward-thinking mindset demanding all defenders to pitch-in to slow down the ball-handler. In both sports, defense is - and always will be - a team endeavor. Below, the Raptors exploit Detroit’s (and by “Detroit” I mean Dwight Buycks) late recognition as Blake Griffin slides over to aid in defending the paint but no one bothered to help Griffin:

Six painless points by Jakob Poeltl just for existing.

Make yourself available

Heady players make themselves available:

Above, the Raptors display a high understanding of availability.

Semi-transition offense

Toronto maximized Detroit’s lack of communication in semi-transition:

Who’s got who? Not the Raptors’ problem.

Orlando let Detroit beat themselves

The Magic capitalized on unforced Pistons’ errors to start the game, which helped Orlando jump out to an early lead:

Detroit began the contest with four straight turnovers.

The Pistons scored two meaningless points in overtime, and shot a collective zero-for-eight from the field:

“Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake. - Napoleon” - Frank Vogel

Gordon scores 27

Power forwards have been giving the Pistons fits for as long as I can remember, and Gordon is no different:

Below, Griffin’s aggressive PNR defense puts Andre Drummond in an awkward position resulting in two good looks for Vucevic:


Keep your feet

Griffin’s mid-range field goal percentage is on par with Miguel Cabrera’s batting average, so why, Jakob Poeltl, take yourself out of position by lunging at an about-to-be brick?

Above, the Raptors’ sophomore gets burned when he leaps out to cover Griffin and properly rewarded for closing out. Is Griffin as bad of a shooter as he’s displayed while in Detroit? Of course not, but he’s gonna have to prove it before the defense should bite on the pump fakes.

Below, both Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson earn high praise by showing off their defensive discipline:

  1. Bullock runs Sterling Brown off the line, forces him baseline and right into help-defense.
  2. Johnson doesn’t bite and simply crowds Khris Middleton.

Keeping your feet goes a long way whether, it’s at LCA or in the driveway.

Containing the Freak

The Pistons played physical with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the block, but gave him space on the perimeter:

The Freak notched a pedestrian 11 points (season-low) on five-of-thirteen shooting.

Despite the forgettable night, this ball should’ve found its way back to Antetokounmpo:

In a related note, Sean Kilpatrick was waived by Milwaukee the next day.

High/Low: One Highlight, One Lowlight of the week

Not all good and bad plays are created equal. Some stick out and make you take notice. Or they’re just so funky they deserve a special place of their own.


When Eric Moreland switches onto the curl, it leaves Dwight Buycks with no chance at the rebound:


Same Pistons’ look with three different outcomes:

C’mon Milwaukee, you’re better than that.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

At Cleveland

Vs. Toronto

Vs. Chicago

Who cares?

My question to you: who are you following the rest of the way?