AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Try to forget about the Pistons’ three-game losing streak for a second.
That’s not to say the Pistons (22-37) looked very good against the Indiana Pacers, either away or home, or home against the Atlanta Hawks (32-23) Monday night. They did not.
But there are bigger issues at stake here.
“They’re playing for seeding,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said of the Pistons’ post-All-Star break opponents. “We have to have a higher calling, we have to have a higher purpose. We have to continue to be more committed. Little bit shorthanded, no excuse, just need to put more intensity into the game. You gotta make things hard for the opposition and we didn’t do that (Monday night).”
The Pistons weren’t going to beat the Miami Heat this year — in a playoff series that is. They don’t have enough pieces of the puzzle to do that yet.
Just making the playoffs was going to be a longshot, one that took a drastic hit when rookie Andre Drummond went down with a fracture in his lower back, forcing him to miss at least a month.
Brandon Knight has missed the last three games with a hyperextended right knee and Will Bynum missed Monday night’s game after he was suspended by the NBA for hitting Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough.
Those things have meant more playing time for Khris Middleton and Kim English, taken in the second round of this past summer’s draft, 39th and 44th, respectively.
In Monday night’s 114-103 loss against the Hawks, Middleton played 23 minutes and English just under that.
Middleton had four points, two rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. English had a career-high 10 points, one rebound, two assists and one steal.
“Each of those guys is going to have some positive moments,” Frank said. “I think their intent was right. They’re trying, they’re learning the NBA game. They’re going against good teams now that they’re playing. So this is a good introductory course. I think their heart, intent and spirit are in the right place.
“The more they play, the more experience they’ll get and they’ll continue to grow and be able to improve.”
English has gotten into more games, 26, than Middleton, who has played in eight, including four of the last five.
“My confidence is going up,” Middleton said. “I just wish we could have won these last three games. Just gotta try to get some on the road.”
Middleton had his career best 10 points Friday at Indiana and followed that up with nine more Saturday at home against the Pacers.
Although he doesn’t feel as much of a rookie as he did a few months ago because he has been practicing against his teammates every day, it has been adjustment.
“Just being ready and just relaxing out there and playing my game,” Middleton said.
It’s not ideal to be without Knight, who is still a young player that is learning in his second season, but for now, it’s good to see what Middleton and English can do, particularly against the better teams.
You have to see whether those two — along with a guy like Jonas Jerebko — can be a part of a winning team.
Jerebko, who was mostly out of the rotation until the Pistons traded Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince, had 21 points, six rebounds and three assists in just under 24 minutes Monday.
“I thought Jonas played very, very hard,” Frank said. “I never pay attention to the numbers, but it’s amazing when you put so much into the game sometimes how you have big numbers. Jonas finished with 21 points and six rebounds. How many plays did we run for Jonas? Zero.
“But you hustle, you put a lot into the game, and sometimes you fall into points because the effort is there.”
The Pistons can hustle all they want right now, but the fact is they need more talent. Losing isn’t fun but it could translate into more ping-pong balls in the draft lottery for them.
If the Pistons can draft a star, if Drummond becomes one, if Greg Monroe and Knight get better, and guys like Middleton, English and Jerebko prove they can be part of a winning team, the struggles of the 2012-13 season will eventually be forgotten.
It may not be fun right now, but it’s what the Pistons have to do.