Pistons’ strong start ends in loss to Nuggets

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Apparently the 17-point lead is to the NBA the way the two-goal lead was for the NHL back in the day.

Former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman said that the two-goal lead was the most dangerous one in hockey, most likely because it gave a team a false sense of security that they could not lose such a lead.

For the Pistons, who have now blown 17-point leads in their last two home games, the challenge now is to learn how to handle it better when their opponent makes a run.

On Friday night, it was the Chicago Bulls coming back from a 17-point, second-quarter deficit to win.

Tuesday night, it was the Denver Nuggets coming back from a 17-point deficit (21-4) midway through the first quarter to earn a 101-94 victory at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“In this league teams make runs,” veteran Corey Maggette said. “It’s a situation where we made a run and then we made some mistakes and they capitalized, in transition plays, three-point shots, defensive positions where they got some steals. The biggest thing now is we need to learn more from our mistakes.”

Coach Lawrence Frank said it wasn’t like the two games were identical. It’s more that in the NBA, that’s the way things can go. He pointed out that the Nuggets have had four games this season where they had 16-point leads and they lost three of them.

“Either that or we try to ask the NBA to shorten the games,” Frank joked. “There are no excuses. To me, we’re not going to bring in Tony Robbins and wave some incense. These are grown men. We’ve just got to play better.”

But the problem becomes magnified when you have a young team that’s also tired. The Pistons were playing their fourth game in five nights, fifth game in seven nights and seventh game in 11 nights.

“It’s been a tough stretch but no, I didn’t really see tired legs,” said Kyle Singler, who shot 4-for-12 for nine points. “It was more of a mental game for us. We came out ready to play and the score showed it so I wouldn’t say we were tired at all.”

The Pistons missed their share of easy baskets and they also missed some shots that were short. But it seemed to be more the mental fatigue that took its toll.

In one sequence, the Nuggets’ shot bounced toward at least three Pistons in position for a rebound. But not one of them corralled it.

In the second quarter, when the Nuggets outscored the Pistons 31-17, a lot of those points came off of the eight Pistons turnovers.

“It’s one thing when someone beats you on raw talent,” Frank said. “It’s another thing when you make systematic mistakes. We just have to continue to clean it up and get better.”

Frank acknowledged that his players seemed frustrated at points during the game. He also said this game is about resolve and mental toughness.

That’s what the young Pistons have to learn now, how to fight through the grind that the season can be and not let one mistake turn into eight in a quarter.

“We’ve been in the situation where early in the game, two or three mistakes can cause a lifetime of heartaches with this team,” Maggette said. “I think we just need to get better at that. The positive thing about it is Brandon Knight, (Andre) Drummond are getting better, a lot of guys are getting better. That’s what we want. We want guys to get better as players, as men, and I think they’re doing a great job of trying to handle adversity whenever we’re in this position. We just need to get better at that and I think over time we will.”