Strong start gives Pistons chance to capture Detroit's attention
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- Andre Drummond's rebounding numbers are so stratospheric that he hears it from the rest of his team when he finishes a game with only 18.
"They were giving him a hard time in the locker room last night," Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said Wednesday. "He was below his average."
The Pistons can chuckle about things like that, because right now their future finally looks a little brighter. Detroit won its sixth game of the season Tuesday night, beating LeBron James and Cleveland. Last year, the Pistons didn't reach six victories until late December.
"It was a big win for us. It was a team that was just in the finals," Drummond said after helping Detroit rally past the Cavaliers. "For us to come in, fight back and grind a win out shows our fight."
With the Tigers coming off a last-place finish and the Lions bringing up the rear in their division as well, the Pistons have a chance to capture Detroit's attention for the first time in a while. The past few seasons have been ugly in Auburn Hills, with the Pistons falling well short of the postseason amid a desolate atmosphere at the Palace. But a 5-1 start this season turned some heads, and Tuesday's victory at home gave the team another reason to feel confident.
Drummond has been the biggest story during Detroit's encouraging start. Now in his fourth season, his potential has always been obvious, but it wasn't clear how his production would be affected after the Pistons lost Greg Monroe to free agency last offseason. Now Drummond has more room to operate inside, but opposing teams can also pay more attention to him.
The results so far have been staggering. Drummond is averaging 19.1 points and 18.9 rebounds a game. His post moves could use more polish, and he's still a poor free-throw shooter, but those are minor issues when he's dominating the boards and scoring on alley-oops and putbacks.
Drummond had 25 points and 18 rebounds against Cleveland, and he's already had three 20-20 games this season. He's threatening to run away with the league's rebounding race. As of early Wednesday, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers was a distant second at 12.9 per game.
"You never see a gap like that," Van Gundy said. "He's six rebounds ahead of the next guy."
Although beating Cleveland was nice, Detroit's most eye-opening performance of the season may have been a 120-103 win at Portland on Nov. 8. The Pistons outscored the Trail Blazers 41-11 in the fourth quarter. Drummond finished with 29 points and 27 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson scored 40 points.
Jackson, acquired in a trade last season, is the point guard the Pistons hope can form a dynamic tandem with Drummond for the next few years. He's averaging 21 points a game this season, and on Tuesday he scored 23 with a season-high 12 assists against the Cavs.
"That's probably the best game he's played since he's been in Detroit, in terms of his energy, mixing his scoring, attacks, passes," Van Gundy said. "He just couldn't have a much better game."
The Pistons have already had some ups and downs this season. Their bright start was followed by four straight losses on the road. Then they beat Cleveland.
With Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks injured, Detroit's depth is not all it could be, but the Pistons have been solid defensively, and the presence of Drummond enables them to limit second chances by the opposition.
"I think Andre is playing consistently harder, number one," Van Gundy said. "I think Reggie, for the most part, has raised his defensive effort."
The Pistons haven't made the playoffs since 2009, and ending that drought would be a significant step forward. Detroit still has to show it can play consistently through an 82-game schedule, but there are a number of positive signs so far.
"We beat Cleveland. What does that say? We also lost to the Lakers," Van Gundy said. "What I said to our team is, what we've proven through 11 games is, we're capable of beating anybody, and anybody's capable of beating us."