AUBURN HILLS — This hasn’t been the season that Joe Dumars and Tom Gores envisioned for the Pistons, and there’s still a good chance they are going to end up in a pothole bigger than anything you’ve seen on Detroit’s freeways.
If nothing else goes right, though, the development of Andre Drummond guarantees that the 2013-14 season will have one bright spot.
In Monday’s 96-85 victory over the New York Knicks, Drummond finished with 17 points and a career-high 26 rebounds — the most rebounds by any Piston since Ben Wallace had 28 against the Celtics on March 24, 2002. Drummond also put up his 44th double-double of the season, matching Grant Hill and Bill Laimbeer for the most by a Piston since 1983-84.
As usual, Drummond wasn’t going to make a big deal about his own achievements, which keep putting him into categories that few players have reached in the last 30 years.
"I’m just happy we won the game," he said.
Drummond remains on pace to join Dwight Howard and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to average 13 points and 13 rebounds for a season while shooting over 60 percent from the floor. He’s also averaging 5.4 offensive rebounds per game, which would be the highest total since Jayson Williams in 1997-98.
All that, and he doesn’t turn 21 until August.
"He’s just a great young player," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "I can’t even imagine where he’s going to be in a couple of years."
Monday, Drummond was about the only thing keeping the Pistons in the game after a terrible start. He had seven rebounds in the first quarter and, more importantly, kept the Knicks from getting back any of their missed shots. That was the only reason Detroit was even competitive after falling behind 25-11 in the first 10 minutes.
"Every time a rebound came anywhere near Andre tonight, he found a way to corral it," Pistons coach John Loyer said. "I don’t even have to look at a stat sheet to tell you how good he was. You can just see it in his mannerisms and his energy. He ran the floor tremendously well, and when they put him in a lot of pick-and-roll coverage, you could see how hard he has been working on that.
"We talk a lot about getting rebounds that aren’t in your area. When you get 26 rebounds, you’ve done a pretty good job of that."
Drummond won praise from his teammates, although Brandon Jennings did jokingly complain that he didn’t get 30 rebounds, but the group was equally happy that they had rallied to win. A loss to the Knicks and a five-game losing streak would have been a huge blow to Detroit’s playoff chances.
"I thought we responded well," said Will Bynum, who had 16 points off the bench. "We definitely need to play like that more often as a team. We need to play every game with that kind of heart and tenacity."
The problem for the Pistons is that they are currently stuck in the worst place they can finish their season — the so-called "pothole". If the season ended today, Detroit would miss the postseason, but not be bad enough to avoid having to ship its first-round draft pick to Charlotte as part of the Ben Gordon trade. The Pistons only keep the draft choice if it is in the first eight spots, and right now, they would go into the lottery with the 11th pick.
With only 22 games left, the Pistons are going to have to get much better or much worse to escape the hole. They are currently three games behind Atlanta for the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff spot, and they are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Knicks, who hold the No. 8 draft pick.
By playing so hard against New York — the same team that would need to catch them in order to save the draft choice — the Pistons proved that they have no intention of tanking down the stretch. They are going for the playoff spot that owner Tom Gores wants so badly, and they are going to need a lot more games like the one they played on Monday.