Pistons need more help from reserves against Raptors

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors‘ strength is the Detroit Pistons‘ weakness — the bench.

The Raptors’ reserves have made a big difference for the leaders of the Eastern Conference, who will play the Pistons Monday night at the Air Canada Centre.

The Pistons’ reserves, meanwhile, continued to struggle Sunday in a 114-98 loss to the Hornets in Charlotte.

It was the fifth loss in the past six games, following a five-game winning streak, for the Pistons (28-31), who fell to 2 1/2 games behind the Miami Heat for the final playoff spot.

Blake Griffin led the Pistons with 20 points Sunday and Andre Drummond added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

“We still have a chance to make some noise for the rest of this season,” Drummond said. “We just have to pick up our energy and effort and figure the rest out itself.”

James Ennis III had nine points as the only regular bench player to score any points on Sunday afternoon. “We’re just having so much trouble when we go to the bench,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy.

The Pistons bench was outscored 51-28 in the loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday and then was outscored 65-21 by the Hornets on Sunday.

Van Gundy, however, said the problem with the Pistons on Sunday was more than the play of the reserves.

“It’s not just the bench,” he said. “It’s not a matter of (sending a) message. They’re not playing well. (The Hornets) played with a lot more energy and a lot more intensity than we did. That was the game. And that’s not just our bench or anything else. That’s to a man down the line. So, let’s not lay it on four or five guys — that was a team-wide thing.”

“There was no effort when we came out of that first quarter,” Drummond added. “The second quarter again decided the game. Honestly, this needs to stop. We can’t keep (playing) games where we’re down by 15, 20 before halftime and then try to make a fight to come back.”

The problem for the Raptors, meanwhile, has been closing out games. They did tie the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday on the final play of regulation time but lost in overtime.

Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, who scored 33 points in the game, has been criticized for taking the dunk for two points with 1.5 seconds remaining in overtime Friday when the team trailed by three points. That trimmed the lead to one and the Bucks made two free throws to win 122-119.

“We watched that today,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after practice Sunday. “We’ve been around the block a few times, guys make mistakes, that was a huge mistake (but) I don’t think he tried to do it on purpose.”

Casey said the team understands the issues.

“We’ve got to get better at them, we’re working on them and that’s our weakness right now, making sure we finish off games,” Casey said.

The Raptors (41-17) are 11-13 in games decided by six points or fewer.

“We’re one of the top offensive teams in the first 44 minutes of the game and (in) the last four, we’re in the bottom,” Casey said. “We’re kind of caught in between. We know what the issues are, we’re working on them and that’s our cross to bear.”

The loss to the Bucks ended Toronto’s seven-game winning streak. They still have the best home record in the NBA at 24-5.

Toronto’s bench currently ranks eighth in the NBA in points per game (40.7) after ranking 26th in scoring each of the past two seasons (2015-17). The second unit has combined to score at least 40 points in each of the past eight games (Feb. 2-23); averaging 52.1 points during this span. Reserve forward Pascal Siakam has been the leading scorer off the bench over the past two games with 17 points each time.

Guard Reggie Jackson (right ankle sprain) is out for the Pistons.

In the only meeting between the teams so far this season, the Raptors won 96-91 at the ACC Jan. 17.