Miami — The Pistons were starting to get into a good groove, winning six of eight games, but then the injuries started piling up.
And they were at key positions.
It’s been a struggle to balance the rotation and to have enough guards available, as Frank Jackson (back spasms), Hamidou Diallo (finger sprain), Killian Hayes (adductor) and Rodney McGruder (hamstring) have missed the past few games.
The Pistons got some good news with the return of Hayes and McGruder to the lineup for Tuesday’s matchup against the Miami Heat. It’s two steps forward and one step back, though.
Cade Cunningham missed the game because of a non-COVID illness, adding to the injury issues.
“Cade is out; he’s at the hotel sick,” Casey said before Tuesday’s game. “He started feeling bad (Monday) night and came to shootaround looking like death, eating crackers. So, he’s in pretty bad shape.”
Cunningham has been on a streak of late, scoring at least 20 points in his last seven games, and averaging 22.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and six assists over the last 11 games. With the rookie out, McGruder joined the starting lineup Tuesday, but it’s a constant shuffle with the other guards still ailing.
The Pistons did get Isaiah Stewart back in the starting lineup after he missed three games because of a knee issue. With their starting big man back, they were able to move Marvin Bagley III back to the second unit, where he has played well, in addition to his three games as a starter.
“(Getting Stewart back) does help. I thought he was playing some of his best basketball and doing the little things,” Casey said. “(Bam) Adebayo is a guy that he plays like. He can switch out, handle the basketball out front and rebound. He does all the physical things in the paint. That’s a good comparison for Isaiah.”
Part of the Pistons’ success in the recent streak has been getting Kelly Olynyk back and moving the ball better. That’s translated to a smoother offense and better communication. Just having a veteran who can settle things down is paying off.
“Kelly — and people here in Miami know — he’s smart. A very cerebral player,” Casey said. “He does a really good job of seeing what the defense is doing and understands how to pick it apart. He’s a huge help for us. He hasn’t been himself since he came back. He’s still a huge help for our young guys out there on the floor.”
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had some high praise for Cunningham, who is in the running for NBA Rookie of the Year. With his improvement throughout the season, Cunningham is making an impression on coaches and his fellow players.
“With young players with a work ethic and a willingness and openness to being coached, things can happen pretty quickly,” Spoelstra said. “There are so many games and opportunities to experience things and learn your impact — and he’s a special player.
“Where he is now, to where he was (earlier in the season), he looks like a totally different player. You can’t put an analytic to when a player gains that confidence and the game starts to click and slow down for you.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism