Saturday, January 31, 2009
SMALL STEPS FOR RIP
Richard Hamilton didn't seem limited when he scored 14 points in 30 minutes against the Celtics Friday night. Hamilton has a nagging groin injury and he says it was a "mind over matter" victory to overcome the pain and play.
"It's still sore, still hurts," he said after the team's shootaround Saturday. "Yesterday, I just told myself there's no way I'm going to sit out this game, from how the playoffs went last year and how they whipped us the first two gamese. I kind of just try to get over it mentally."
His movements are restricted and he's afraid to go full tilt for fear of aggravating the sore area.
"I'm taking shorter steps," he said. "When I talk to Arnie (Kander, the team's strength and conditioning coach), he always says when you're out there playing, people don't even know you're hurt. I tell people I'm faster than the average guy out there, so even when I'm hurt, I'm still just as quick as anybody else. There's certain things I can't do but I won't ever tell anybody."
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Richard Hamilton has not been able to shake a groin injury that sidelined him eight games about a month ago. Hamilton re-aggravated the injury last week and did not practice Thursday. He's still hoping to play against Boston Friday and Cleveland Sunday.
There's no hard evidence on this, but maybe being the sixth man had something to do with it. Before he accepted the role, Hamilton spoke of how he needed to keep warm. He's not used to sitting on the bench for the first eight or nine minutes, then try to make an immediate contribution. He no longer has the ability to ease into games and perhaps that idleness, followed by the quick bursts he makes, put too much strain on that area.
Another note: Will Bynum is out of the rotation for about the fifth time this season. Allen Iverson has played well enough at the point in stretches to be the backup to Rodney Stuckey. AI and Rip have to be able to co-exist on the court and it seems when they play together without Stuckey, instead of in a three-guard set, they're more comfortable.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
DON'T GIVE UP 'EM, BABY
The Arizona Cardinals emerged from the NFC pack to make the Super Bowl. The Philadelphia Phillies stayed under the radar until they made the World Series, then defeated the Cinderella Tampa Bay Devil Rays to win it all.
So I'm not going to dismiss the Pistons three months before the playoffs begin. Seems like every loss these days is greeted with a 'They're done' assessment; Every win brings a 'That's what they're supposed to do' retort.
Did anyone here seriously believe the Pistons were going to win the NBA championship at this time five seasons ago? Did anyone in Miami anticipate a similar run three years ago during an injury-riddled regular season? Who gave Cleveland a chance to make the Finals two years ago, when the Pistons were rolling and Chicago was the hot new challenger?
Bottom line - don't try to judge the spring by what goes on in January.
As well as the Orlando Magic are playing, I'd be more surprised to see them in the Finals than the Pistons. From a personnel standpoint, the Pistons are better equipped to make the Finals than they were during the Flip Saunders era. The biggest concern, as I see it now, is how much Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson have left in the tank. Wallace has been horrible all month and Iverson has been shockingly unaggressive. How many times have you seen him get into the lane, only to pass up a layup in favor of a kickout or a low-percentage fadeaway?
Here's the good news: Even though Sheed and AI may be fading, the Pistons still have Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Antonio McDyess, plus some young post players. They're just as likely to make the Finals as they are to flameout in the first round. As the Pistons muddle through the middle of the season, it's best to remember to this battle cry: "Remember the Cards!"
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
WILL UP, ARRON DOWN
One of the offshoots of Michael Curry's decision to make Richard Hamilton the sixth man, which was announced Tuesday, is that Will Bynum will get steady minutes as Rodney Stuckey's backup. Bynum will have the responbility of getting Hamilton and Antonio McDyess early in the second quarter and late in the third when Stuckey comes out.
Arron Afflalo is bound to lose some playing time, even if he slides to the small forward position more often. There are only so many minutes to go our for the perimeter guys and now that Tayshaun Prince is back at small forward most of the time, Afflalo is the odd man out.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Michael Curry never expected his first year as a head coach to be this bumpy.
Curry had everything mapped out during training camp of how his starting lineup would look, what roles the reserves would play and how to get the Pistons to peak during the playoffs.
Then came the Allen Iverson trade and Curry's master plan was blown up.
Here we are in mid-January and the team is floundering, players are bouncing in and out of the rotation and fans are screaming about the small ball lineup.
Curry has changed his mind too much and that's created confusion and frustration.
It may be simplistic to say let's make a plan for the rest of the way and stick with it. Injuries can always throw things off but I believe more than ever that Richard Hamilton has to bite the bullet and come off the bench. As I wrote in a recent blog, the starters should be Prince, Johnson, Wallace, Iverson and Stuckey with Hamilton and McDyess leading the second unit. Afflalo and Maxiell should also get consistent minutes. When Stuckey needs a rest, Iverson and Prince can run the offense for five or six minutes each half.
Hamilton said last week he was willing to come off the bench if that is what's needed. After five straight losses, something has to change. At the same time, once the change is made, stick with it and let the rotation players settle into their roles.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The Pistons have won the Central Division regularly since the Pacers' demise but they're probably not going to catch Cleveland this season.
Not only have the Cavs won all their home games, they have built an 8-game lead over the Pistons. How big is the gap? Milwaukee and Chicago are closer to the Pistons in the race for second place than the Pistons are to Cleveland.
Statistically, the Cavs are doing the job at both ends of the court. They have the second-highest field-goal percentage in the league. Defensively, they're No. 1 in both points allowed and field-goal percentage.
Surprisingly, the only major area in which they've been subpar is 3-point shooting. They're 19th in the league in that category but with Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak and Mo Williams in the rotation, I don't think it will be a major problem going forward.
I don't see how the Pistons can catch the Cavs, unless LeBron gets injured for a long stretch. Even if the Pistons won three-quarters of their games the rest of the way, Cleveland would have to lose 20 games in order for the Pistons to reel them in. LeBron and his teammates look too focused to let that happen.
On a side note, why won't The Palace finally concede defeat and officially end the sellout streak? The upper level hasn't been close to full in most games this season. On Tuesday against Charlotte, I'd estimate the upper level was 25- to 30-percent capacity. And they couldn't use the weather as an excuse because it didn't snow. Please end the charade.
Monday, January 12, 2009
DECISION ON RIP COMING
Pistons coach Michael Curry will have to confront the dilemma soon, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.
Richard Hamilton returned to practice Monday after missing the last eight games with a partial groin tear. He's still questionable to play against Charlotte Tuesday.
"My main concern with him is just if he can bounce back after not having been doing a lot of cutting and playing," Curry said. "Rip still always shoots the ball well and he was active, but he's had a while off and to come back and cut and all that, we just want to make sure he's right, because we need him for the long run."
But will he be the sixth man? That's been the speculation during Rip's absence. The team's defense and rebounding has improved dramatically with Amir Johnson as the starting power forward, rather than the small lineup Curry was using before the injury.
Allen Iverson could also be the one asked to come off the bench. Curry hinted that one of his stars will have to make the sacrifice when Hamilton is ready to play.
"When it's time, we'll talk about it (to them)," Curry said. "They know that it's out there. At the proper time, we'll sit down and we'll explain the decision that we make and we'll explain why."
Rodney Stuckey and Allen Iverson were not at practice. Stuckey was returning from a jersey-retiring ceremony at his alma mater (Eastern Washington). Iverson missed practice because of a family matter.
Walter Herrmann came to practice but was sent home because he was sick.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
RIP'S CLOSE TO RETURNING
Finally, some good news on the injury front.
Richard Hamilton, who has missed eight straight games, is expected to return to practice Monday and play against Charlotte on Tuesday night. Hamilton has been sidelined with a groin strain, a tricky injury that could be a season-long problem if it doesn't properly heal.
The next issue is whether Hamilton will return to the starting lineup. The Pistons have played much better with Amir Johnson at power forward and Rodney Stuckey at the point. As stated in an earlier blog, Hamilton would be doing the team a favor by becoming the sixth man the rest of the season.
By the way, the Pistons didn't get any favors from the schedule-makers this month. Most teams get a few home games after a West Coast trip. They play Charlotte at home Tuesday, then head out on Roundball Two for games against Indiana and Oklahoma City before returning for a home game Saturday against the very good New Orleans Hornets.
Then, they leave again for a game in Memphis before finally staying home for a week. That's a crazy stretch, no matter which teams they're playing.
Monday, January 5, 2009
RIP AND THE ROTATION
Richard Hamilton isn't close to returning from the groin strain that has forced him to miss five consecutive games. He has yet to sprint or make a hard cut since he was sidelined.
When he's ready to return, Rip needs to make a sacrifice. For the better of the team, he needs to be the first guard off the bench.
That's a lot to ask of a player who has been an All-Star the last three years. But with the current state of the roster, Hamilton would be doing Michael Curry and his teammates a big favor and bring some cohesion to the rotation.
After winning seven straight, the Pistons obviously are better when they play a conventional lineup. Rodney Stuckey needs to remain the starting point and Amir Johnson has to stay in the starting frontcourt to solidify the team's interior defense and rebounding. The Pistons have zoomed up the NBA's defensive charts since they virtually scrapped their small ball tactics.
I don't think Allen Iverson would work well as a sixth man - he's too used to playing heavy minutes and needs that extra time to get into a groove. But how about having Hamilton and Antonio McDyess as your sixth and seventh men? Tell me that doesn't make them a legitimate championship contender.
Here's how Curry should approach it. Start Sheed, Tay, Amir, AI and Stuckey. Bring in Hamilton and Arron Afflalo late in the first quarter for AI and Prince. When Stuckey needs a rest, send AI and Prince back in to handle the ball.
McDyess and Jason Maxiell would play most of the second quarter up front.
Curry can determine as the game goes along which five players should be on the court at crunch time that night.
Now, you've got a coherent nine-man rotation. Walter Herrmann and Kwame Brown are out of the mix. Both would play a lot more somewhere else but you can't have 10 or 11 guys running in and out of there. That's one of the problems the Pistons had earlier in the season.
Say what you will about Boston and Cleveland but they can't match the Pistons' from 1-9 if Curry goes in this direction. That makes them a much more dangerous team this spring, which is what the AI trade was supposed to bring all along.
Friday, January 2, 2009
COAST TRIP COULD BE BUZZ KILL
The Pistons head to the West Coast this weekend battered and bruised, yet still feeling very good about themselves.
They carry a six-game winning streak into their second and final West Coast swing of the season, which begins in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon against the Clippers. They will also match up against playoff contenders Portland, Denver and Utah before returning home.
I think we play a lot better against the tough teams, Allen Iverson said. Thats the positive thing.
The bad thing is that the Pistons never win on Sunday and never beat Utah - or so it seems. They'll be lucky to 2-2 on this trip, especially with three regulars possibly missing part or all of the trip.
Weve been good on the road, head coach Michael Curry said. The last time we went West, we played well but we have some different teams this time.
Richard Hamilton has missed four consecutive games with a strained left groin. He's the biggest question mark.
Hopefully, Rip has turned the corner, Curry said. Its starting to heal up. He did extra work after practice but with a muscle, its not when youre doing the workout, its how they feel the next day or later on.
Rasheed Wallace (sore right foot) and Antonio McDyess (sore ribs) sat out the teams home victory over Sacramento on Friday night. Curry is also hopeful theyll be able to play by Wednesday's game in Portland.
With Rodney Stuckey playing like a superstar, the Pistons have made up for Hamiltons absence. The team is also defending better by using fewer three-guard lineups. Their last four opponents have shot 35.4 percent from the field.
Were starting to feel real good as a team, Allen iverson said. Were starting to have the confidence and that swagger since the trade first happened. We didnt have that feeling at first.
They might not be feeling so giddy a week from now.