DETROIT – The Pistons’ season of infamy continues. They’ve now suffered the most consecutive losses in a single campaign in franchise history.
D’Angelo Russell led the Los Angeles Lakers with a season-high 35 points, Anthony Davis added 28 points and 16 rebounds, and the Lakers handed Detroit a 103-107 loss Wednesday, the Pistons’ 15th in a row. Cade Cunningham was the high scorer with 15 points on yet another dark evening in the Motor City.
The losing streak, which began with a 12-point loss in Oklahoma City on Oct. 30, is just six shy of a 21-game skid the Pistons rode between two seasons some 43 years ago. Detroit, owner of the NBA’s worst record at 2-16, plays again Thursday at Madison Square Garden and then at home Saturday against Cleveland.
“I think it’s human nature – when you’re winning, you focus on the winning, and when you’re losing (that’s your) focus, it’s just the way it is,” Pistons coach Monty Williams said before the game. “We try to complement whatever that focus is with doing the right things consistently. And I think every young team or young players, that’s what you’re trying to implement daily is consistency and doing the right things over the long haul of a game.”
The Lakers received 25 points and 8 rebounds in 29 minutes from LeBron James, who after a 44-point loss to the Sixers on Monday said “a lot” needed to change on his team. His coach, Darvin Ham, entered the press-conference area before Wednesday’s game with a freshly trimmed beard.
“Yeah man, just following LeBron’s orders – had to change my face,” Ham deadpanned. “I thought he was talking about my beard.”
LeBron had declined to get specific Monday as to what he thought should be different. He was speaking just moments after what was easily the worst loss of the Lakers’ season, and the most lopsided defeat of his 21-season career.
Ham said the Lakers didn’t address the disaster in Philadelphia until Wednesday morning with a healthy, productive film session and a big picture speech from Ham in which he assured his players that one bad night in Philly was not representative of their season.
For instance, the Lakers stormed through the first part of the In Season Tournament at 4-0 and host Phoenix in a quarterfinal on Tuesday. Los Angeles may be just 11-8 overall, but has played the entire season without starting guard Jarred Vanderbilt and most of it without backup point guard Gabe Vincent due to injuries. Rui Hachimura remains out with a broken nose, and Cam Reddish returned Wednesday after missing the last three games with minor leg injuries.
“The biggest thing with (James), he’s a competitive, fierce competitor like myself, and that (loss to the Sixers) was a tough one to experience,” Ham said. “It’s okay to be frustrated because you’re passionate about the game, but we can’t get emotional and lose our focus, lose our way.”
The Lakers did no such thing on Wednesday. It was a cool, calculated dismantling of Michigan’s pro basketball team by an Ohio State alum (Russell) whose point total was his most since he was traded to the Lakers last season, and a huge Buckeyes fan in James – who was born in Akron. Maybe a little payback for what happened on the football field last Saturday.
The Pistons, meanwhile, received 14 points from Isaiah Stewart in the loss. Two of the biggest crowd reactions during the blowout were, in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons’ game ops staff showed members of the Wolverines’ team in attendance, and in the third, when a Pistons fan (wearing a Detroit jersey, no less) was caught on the video board picking his nose.
Detroit has been to the playoffs just twice in the last 10 years, and not at all since the 2018-19 campaign. Last year’s 17 wins were the second-fewest in franchise history in what was otherwise a lost season for the Pistons’ rebuild, because Cunningham, the No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft, missed all but 12 games due to surgery for a stress fracture on his left leg.
The Pistons knew there would be more bumps this season, but it’s no secret they were hoping for better. They lured Williams, who had steered the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals in 2021, back to coaching with a record six-year, $78.5 million contract, traded for established veteran role players Monte Morris and Joe Harris, and knew Cunningham was coming back, fully healthy.
Their best laid plans for a better season have gone astray. Morris and resident veteran Bojan Bogdanovic haven’t played a single game due to injury; Harris missed his 11th consecutive game Wednesday with a separated shoulder.
Cunningham is enjoying career highs in points, shots, and assists early in this campaign, but, the Pistons are starting two players (Jalen Duren, rookie Ausar Thompson) who are younger than his 22 years. The average age of Detroit’s starters is 21.5 years – the youngest in the league – and overall the Pistons’ roster is the NBA’s third youngest. They entered play against the Lakers with the league’s 27th-ranked offense and 23rd defense. They shoot the fewest 3s in the league and only five teams make a lower percentage of their 3s than the Pistons.
Detroit’s booklet for media stats, easily one of the most comprehensive in the NBA, includes an item that says the Pistons have traveled the second-farthest distance on the court this season, a measurement of the miles their players have run during games.
They’ve gone a long way, certainly, but in which direction?
(Photo: Rick Osentoski / USA Today)