AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Pistons started a crucial three-day stretch Tuesday night.
So far, things aren’t going very well.
Detroit came out of the All-Star break facing back-to-back games against Charlotte, the team they’re chasing for the Eastern Conference’s eighth spot.
On Thursday, the day after the second game with the Bobcats, the NBA reaches the trading deadline.
That means that Tom Gores and Joe Dumars will have to make a final decision on balance between the franchise’s short-term and long-term futures.
Do they keep the current group together, thinking they can catch the Bobcats and earn a first-round series against Indiana or Miami? Or do they try to make a trade that will give them more flexibility this summer?
The current roster didn’t make much of an argument for themselves on Day 1, losing to the Bobcats 108-96 at the Palace.
The Pistons looked lethargic and unconcerned, allowing Charlotte to hit its first seven shots of the game and take an early double-digit lead.
"We didn’t have the energy and concentration that I would have expected tonight," interim coach John Loyer said. "That’s very disapponting.
"You can’t let a good NBA team, and I think Charlotte is a good team, post that kind of start. We had two good practices after the break, but it didn’t carry over into tonight’s game."
Charlotte now leads the race for the final postseason spot by 1 1/2 games and can make it 2 1/2 with a home win on Wednesday night.
"We need to go down there and get a win," Loyer said. "I’m glad we are playing again tomorrow because I’d hate to have to sit around and think about that game.
"It is good to have the chance to go right back out and put forward a better effort."
Loyer might like the Bobcats, but they’re hardly a threat for the NBA title. They gave the Pistons plenty of chances on Tuesday, starting with the 14 free throws that they missed.
Charlotte, one of the best defensive-rebounding teams in the league, also gave up 16 offensive rebounds. Most of those went to Andre Drummond, who repeated the Moses Malone triple-double that he put up in Friday’s Rising Stars game. Drummond finished with 16 points, 11 offensive rebounds and 11 defensive rebounds.
The problem? Drummond didn’t get much help from his teammates.
Detroit shot just 39.8 percent from the floor, including Rodney Stuckey’s forgettable 1-for-11 — a performance that certainly won’t help his trade value in the coming days.
Stuckey wasn’t the only reserve to struggle, though. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played 10 minutes without recording a single statistic. In all, the Detroit bench scored 13 points in 54 minutes, hitting just 6 of 23 shots.
"Our bench has been good for us this year, and we rely on all of those guys," Loyer said. "When we’ve had pretty high-level games, we’ve gotten good contributions by a lot of guys.
"This wasn’t one of those games. Hopefully, it will be a little better tomorrow."
More production from the bench would help, but Detroit also needs better shooting nights from the starters. Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings went a combined 12-for-35, including 2-for-8 on 3-pointers.
Smith is now shooting 13.1 percent (5-for-38) on 3-pointers in the last 15 games. That simply isn’t good enough, especially given the matchup problems presented by Al Jefferson.
Jefferson, who had 24 points and 14 rebounds when Charlotte came from 20 back to beat Detroit in December, was even more impressive on Tuesday. This time, he put up 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
"He’s an All-Star and he’s a matchup nightmare," Will Bynum said. "We know that it takes a total team effort to stop a guy like that, so we all have to look ourselves in the mirror and make sure we are giving the best effort we can."
If Detroit doesn’t find a better effort and loses again in Charlotte on Wednesday, the future of the franchise might be up for grabs on Thursday.