The Stuckey Correlation
Pistons recent struggles coincide with Stuckey’s shoulder injury
Stuckey got hurt three weeks ago when the Pistons lost a 13-point lead and then fell in overtime to Portland. They won with a subpar Stuckey the next night at Indiana – one of the highlights of their season to date – and overcame a 21-point deficit to win at Boston two nights later without him.
When they lost a 20-point lead two nights after that, outscored 41-17 in the fourth quarter by Charlotte at home, it began their backslide that carried the Pistons to their current standing of five games below .500, their low-water mark.
Losing five of six, fourth-quarter fades, Rodney Stuckey either missing games entirely or wincing in pain. Not likely coincidental. During the one win in that stretch – the road rout of Cleveland – Stuckey played without incident.
“It changes a lot,” Brandon Jennings said after Saturday’s practice of life without the player who had so won Mo Cheeks’ confidence that he became the team’s go-to scorer even in his role as sixth man. “For me, too, in general down the stretch. I’m always having the ball in my hands and always trying to find a shot or I’m trying to find something to help the team. But with Rodney, he takes a lot of pressure off me because sometimes he can have it and he can just go and I can relax and chill. Not having him has been hard.”
An MRI exam taken last Sunday revealed no structural damage, but Stuckey didn’t go through contact portions of practices over the last three days as the Pistons wrapped up their unusual five-day break between games on Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s matinee with Memphis, with tipoff scheduled amid an anticipated winter storm.
“He didn’t practice,” Cheeks said. “If you’re not practicing right now, he’s probably not going to be ready to play at 1 o’clock tomorrow.”
Cheeks can’t be accused of lack of experimentation in trying to find combinations that click, giving virtually everyone on the roster aside from rookie Tony Mitchell a shot at rotation minutes at some point. Bottom line, he doesn’t think the troubles that have plagued the Pistons of late in fourth quarters have much to do with personnel or strategy but more to do with mind-set.
“I don’t think it’s about off-the-ball movement, I don’t think it’s necessarily about what we run,” he said. “I think it’s just that we’ve got to be more aggressive in what we do. Not just Brandon, but our group has to be more aggressive in what we do in the last four, five minutes of the game.”
The Pistons get five games over the next seven days – Memphis and Phoenix home games bracketing a three-game road trip to Atlantic Division teams New York, Toronto and Philadelphia – and then another five-day break that carries them into mid-January and very nearly the mid-point of the season. There are only four winning teams in the Eastern Conference and the Pistons currently sit in the No. 6 playoff spot. They know that if they can get on a run, they can start leap-frogging teams in a hurry. Getting Stuckey back healthy surely would help the quest.