Surging Pistons gear up for Timberwolves' visit
When the Detroit Pistons dropped seven games below .500 last month, their season seemed to be fading to oblivion.
A few weeks later, the outlook looks much different for the Pistons. They currently hold one of the Eastern Conference's playoff berths after winning nine of their last 11 games.
They'll try to surpass the .500 mark for the first time since Dec. 19 when they host Minnesota at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday.
The Pistons pulled out an overtime thriller on Sunday, scoring the last 10 points to defeat Toronto 112-107.
Coach Dwane Casey's confidence in his team didn't waver during a rough two-month stretch in which it only won nine games. His faith has been rewarded.
"It's the same team. We're doing the same things," he told the team's website after practice on Tuesday. "Consistency in our league is just like patience. People lose patience and give up on a team. If you're working on the right fundamentals, you're trying to have the right mindset and it clicks in, good things happen. That's what's happening now."
All-Star Blake Griffin remains the focal point of the attack but he's handling the ball less and his teammates are producing at a more efficient rate. Point guard Reggie Jackson is averaging 19.7 points and 4.3 assists over the last 10 games and reserve guard Luke Kennard has delivered 17 or more points in four of the last five games.
Griffin's frontcourt partner, Andre Drummond, has become a defensive force, leading the club in steals and blocks along with being the league's most prolific rebounder.
The only poor recent outing by the Pistons came last week in San Antonio and Casey used that as a teaching moment.
"We've got to come out with a heavy amount of respect and be ready to attack each team," he said. "I don't think we came out with that mindset in San Antonio, so that should be a great lesson going into tomorrow night's game."
The first meeting between the Pistons and Timberwolves required an overtime session. Detroit emerged with a 129-123 victory behind Griffin's 34 points. A 33-point outing by Minnesota guard Derrick Rose was wasted.
The Timberwolves were coached by Tom Thibodeau at the time. Ryan Saunders, son of former Pistons coach Flip Saunders, is now running the show but Minnesota continues to be plagued by defensive issues.
It ranks in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency since Saunders become head coach.
"I think it's been something we've battled this season," he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The Timberwolves gave up an average of 132 points in their last four losses.
"We know that we need to figure it out," Saunders said. "With that, we can be positive, but we have to give ourselves reasons to be positive, too."
Minnesota allowed 120 points on Tuesday but still won, courtesy of a monster night by center Karl-Anthony Towns. He poured in 41 points in a 131-120 home victory over Oklahoma City. The Timberwolves shot 52.8 percent from the field and made just 10 turnovers.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 6, 2019