Pistons ‘just have to work through’ recent struggles, Cheeks says
A day after Brandon Jennings called the Pistons a “first-half team” and Mo Cheeks admitted he was groping for answers to how Memphis managed to outscore his team 61-28 in Sunday’s second half to win going away after trailing by five at halftime, Josh Smith broke it down to very simple terms: communication, selflessness and fun.
This is a team, after all, that within the past month has won games at Miami and Indiana and came out on top after spotting Boston a 21-point lead.
“I just think that we’ve got to start back having fun playing the game,” Smith said after Monday’s practice. “In those wins we came together as a unit, we were very unselfish on both ends of the court. We need to watch and see what we did right in those games to be able to make us be successful. We’ve just got to enjoy playing the game of basketball and not look at it as just coming to work.”
The breakdown was complete in Sunday’s second half, the Pistons shooting under 30 percent and allowing Memphis to match or exceed their second-half point total in each of the last two quarters.
“We’ve just got to work through it,” Cheeks said. “I don’t know any other way to say it. We’ve just got to buckle down – defensively, offensively – we’ve just go to stay with it. Our first halves for the most part have been pretty good. It’s our second halves we just haven’t completed.”
Smith, long considered one of the league’s premier defenders, is especially perplexed by the inconsistency the Pistons continue to exhibit defensively.
“It is frustrating because when I looked at the lineup before I got here, I was like, it’s going to be hard for teams to score on us. And they’re having no problem doing that,” he said. “That’s because it’s a lack of communication. It’s already hard to hear and be able to mesh with a team when we just came together, so any time we have a lot of new faces on a team we have to be able to communicate. It’s big. It’s the sixth man on the defense. It’s the anchor.
“When everybody is communicating, it helps that person out that much more to defend the basketball or wherever they are on the court, whether it’s calling screens out too late or not helping each other out. It’s a little frustrating. We need to get back to being gritty on the defensive end and adding a little toughness.”
Trying to shake off the malaise of the past two weeks in the face of a three-game road trip against suddenly hot Atlantic Division teams New York, Toronto and Philadelphia might not be ideal, but the Pistons have had their best moments this season away from The Palace, where they’ve lost five straight and are just 6-12.
“I guess it’s good to be able to get on the road, just to be able to focus a little bit more on the fact we can play with anybody and just get back to the basics,” Smith said. “Watch film, get on that plane, have some laughs with the fellas and be focused on this three-game stretch we have coming up.”
It’s unlikely they’re going to get a boost from the return of Rodney Stuckey anytime soon. The Pistons play four games over the next six days, then get a second rare five-day break in their schedule. Stuckey didn’t practice again on Monday and Cheeks said, “I don’t think he’s playing.”
That compounds the challenge of attempting to re-establish the momentum that appeared to be at their backs just a few weeks ago on the road.
“It’s hard to win on the road,” Cheeks said. “You have to do a lot of things well. You have to do a lot of things hard. We have to play New York and our mind-set is playing New York first and play from there.”