Hornets hand Pistons sixth straight defeat

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — If the Pistons miss the playoffs — and it’s getting more and more likely that they will — they’re going to have a lot of losses they can blame.

Sunday’s will be high on the list.

On a night when they finally got a decent performance from their often-dysfunctional offense, the Pistons collapsed defensively in a 108-101 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

"We might have played four good minutes of defense all night," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I guess you can say that the last four minutes of the third quarter were decent, but that’s four out of 48."

The loss, Detroit’s sixth straight, drops them five games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and they would need to pass four teams in 20 games to get there. Even if they were to go 15-5 down the stretch — something that’s hard to imagine right now — they would still need the four teams ahead of them to all have losing records.

With a four-game West Coast trip coming up, including games against Portland and Golden State and then followed by a home game against Memphis, the Pistons badly needed a victory Sunday against one of their rivals for the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.

For one half, it looked like they would get it. Against one of the better defenses in the league, the Pistons put up 62 points, including a spectacular 21-point performance by Reggie Jackson.

Even with an eight-point lead, Van Gundy had a sense something was wrong.

"That was a very strange first half because neither team was guarding anybody," he said. "You wouldn’t expect a low-intensity half like that from two teams that are supposedly battling for a playoff spot."

Charlotte got that message at the intermission. The Pistons didn’t.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford switched Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, onto Jackson for the second half, and It worked. Jackson managed only four points on 2-of-9 shooting, and no one else was able to take advantage.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks went a combined 3-for-15 in the half, while Tayshaun Prince and Caron Butler were non-factors on the offensive end.

"Some of this is on me. I got outcoached tonight," Van Gundy said. "They made one defensive change, and I didn’t have an answer."

The lack of perimeter shooting meant the Pistons weren’t getting anything from the outside — they went 0-for-7 on 3-pointers in the second half — and that means trouble.

"What this team does is that if we miss shots, we get in a situation where we become stagnant," Prince said. "That was the case in the third quarter, and that’s been the case in this losing streak. The quicker we can get out of those spells, the better it will be."

In the meantime, Detroit’s defense didn’t get any better. Al Jefferson had 10 points in the third quarter, and Mo Williams and Lance Stephenson combined for 19 in the fourth.

Detroit’s only strong stretch came at the end of the third, when Williams was on the bench.

With the playoff chances growing dimmer, Van Gundy was asked if he would consider looking more at his younger players.

"We’re starting two 21-year-olds and two 24-year-olds," he said. "Our youngsters are already on the floor."