Pistons running out of time

AUBURN HILLS — The Detroit Pistons are running out of time.

With 21 games to play, they are still a long way out of the playoffs and heading in the wrong direction. After Wednesday’s 105-94 loss to Chicago, Detroit has lost eight of 10 games at the exact time that they need to be making a run for the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot.

If they want to make the postseason for the first time since 2009, they need to take advantage of every game where they have a chance for a win. 

The Bulls gave them that, falling behind by 12 points early in the second quarter, but the Pistons couldn’t finish the deal. Detroit was already behind by halftime, cut the deficit to one point heading into the third, and then gave up 34 points in the final quarter for another blown lead at home.

"Chicago stepped up the intensity and started making shots in the fourth quarter, and we didn’t match that," Pistons coach John Loyer said. "Our attention to detail and ability to execute went down just as they were stepping it up. That’s not going to win many games against a team as good as the Bulls."

Pistons owner Tom Gores must have hoped that a midseason coaching change would light a fire under his team, but they have only won three of 11 games since Loyer took over for Maurice Cheeks. Detroit has especially struggled defensively under Loyer, and allowing 34 fourth-quarter points to the defensive-minded Bulls isn’t a sign of improvement.

Loyer shortened his rotation against Chicago, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope reduced to four minutes and Jonas Jerebko spending the game on the bench, but it didn’t work. Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau did the same thing, matching D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson against Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, and the outcome was a clear victory for the Bulls. 

Augustin had 26 points and Gibson added 22, while Stuckey and Bynum combined for only 12. Bynum was the biggest problem, going 1-for-11 from the floor, and struggling badly in his matchup with Augustin.

Loyer was quick to defend Bynum, who was completely out of the playing rotation before the coaching change, but has now become one of his go-to players down the stretch.

"Will played his guts out tonight, just like he always does for us," he said. "There are just nights where the ball rolls off the rim. It happens. They have two very good players coming off the bench. Gibson has been doing that all season, and Augustin has done it since he got to Chicago. They just did what they’ve been doing, and we couldn’t match it."

Bynum wasn’t the only Piston who struggled with his shot — the team only made two 3-pointers and shot just 27 percent on jumpers — but Greg Monroe had kept the team in the game with 27 points, while Josh Smith had nine rebounds, six blocked shots and five assists and scored 15 points despite a wonky jumper.

But Smith, Brandon Jennings and Kyle Singler didn’t score in the fourth quarter as Detroit’s entire offense went through Monroe, Andre Drummond and Stuckey.

"They just out-executed us in the fourth quarter," said Drummond, who didn’t get a rebound until the second quarter. "They are a very disciplined playoff team, and they ran their stuff down the stretch. We hung with them for three quarters, but we didn’t get it done in the fourth."

If Detroit wants to catch Atlanta or Charlotte for the final playoff spot, they will have to find a way to finish off every game they can.