MEMPHIS, Tenn. — During their upset of the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, it didn’t appear the Detroit Pistons were feeling any aftereffects from having multiple players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Six of the eight players who missed time in the final week of December — Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson, Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder — returned before the game, a 115-106 road win.
In two games since, the Pistons have plummeted from that high. They fell to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, and closed out their three-game road swing with a 118-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The losses were similar. Detroit fell behind by double-digits in the first quarter in both, and couldn’t sustain runs for significant periods of time.
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Isaiah Stewart, one of the Pistons’ highest-energy players, returned Thursday. It didn’t make much of a difference against one of the Western Conference’s top teams. After winning two straight games, Detroit has now lost consecutive games by a combined 59 points. That dramatic swing has left the team questioning where the energy has gone. The Pistons shot just 34.3%, and several of their missed 3-point attempts were airballs, or just barely grazed the rim.
“I think just our fuel meter was down,” Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “The energy level was down from top to bottom.
“The excitement of coming back those first couple of games might’ve wore off, and you see the energy level now with the shooting,” Casey said. “And not making excuses because Memphis is a high-powered team and a tough team, but some of that was, I know Isaiah struggled just with his energy level. All the shots that were short, some of that was the fatigue-level and the sickness.”
Casey acknowledged that the Pistons could be feeling the end result of having several players test positive for COVID-19. Jackson said Monday he didn’t feel a difference in his conditioning, but Cunningham said his chest made it feel as though he was playing in cold weathe. He scored 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting against the Bucks, but was just 5-for-19 against the Grizzlies.
Lee said after Thursday’s game that he was also dealing with fatigue and that he is working on getting his conditioning level back up
It’s difficult to say if players are still dealing with the viral effects, or are simply a little winded after missing time. it could be both. They weren’t allowed to participate in five-on-five action while in protocols and were limited to exercise-bike use at home and solo workouts at the practice facility.
But it’s clear that team-wide, the energy level is down. The Pistons will have Friday off before hosting the Orlando Magic on Saturday, and they’ll have to find a way to recover after consecutive blowouts.
“If you come out and not compete at a high level and dig down, even though you’re a little fatigued or tired, whatever it is, it’s going to be a tough night,” Casey said. “Learning experience. I feel for our guys because you could just see in their face they were trying to get it going. Just couldn’t get it going. And then guys coming off of the bench, same thing. We gotta get the gas tank refueled, get our energy back, go back home and compete from there.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons’ energy down after players’ return from protocols