There's a very simple reason that the Detroit Pistons remain 10 games under .500 as they approach the season's halfway point. They don't have the one thing they don't consistently well.
That's the mark of a good basketball team -- they have an aspect of their game that they bring night after night. Something that, on the rare nights when it isn't there, attracts immediate attention. The Bad Boys and the 2004 championship team both brought physical defense. Michigan made it to No. 2 and 16-0 with what appeared to be an unstoppable offense led by some of the nation's best shooting. That vanished for 13 minutes Sunday in Columbus, and so did Michigan's undefeated record.
The Pistons, though, don't have anything. During their recent 6-1 streak, they shot well and they pounded the offensive glass. However, they also have streaks where they can't buy a shot, and Saturday against Utah, their inability to get second chances probably cost them a winnable game.
The lack of a constant strength is especially tough on a team that does have permanent weaknesses. Detroit doesn't do a good job of taking care of the basketball and can't consistently shut teams down. Even the bench, which has done a great job of winning games in recent weeks, can't be expected to save a struggling starting unit night after night. If they could, they'd be the starters.
This probably isn't the week where the Pistons will fix everything, as they are about to embark on the longest road trip in franchise history. It's only one game, and they are technically the home team, but they will be facing the Knicks on Thursday at the O2 Arena in London, England.
Jan. 11: Pistons 103, BUCKS 87: After the longest break of the season -- four days -- the refreshed Pistons were able to shake off an embarrassing overtime loss to the Bobcats by routing Milwaukee. They didn't shoot particularly well, but they took care of the basketball, while the defense was able to hold down Milwaukee's shooters without putting them on the line. Greg Monroe was the star with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Brandon Knight scored 20.
Jan 12: Jazz 90, PISTONS 87: One night after outscoring Milwaukee 33-11 in the third quarter, the Pistons did the exact opposite against Utah. After controlling the first half, Detroit's starters fell apart in the third, getting outscored 26-11. The Pistons were down by 13 late in the game, but rallied to make things exciting at the end. Knight had a shot to force overtime at the buzzer, but couldn't get it over 6'8" DeMarre Carroll.
Brandon Knight: Knight had 36 points in Detroit's two games and finished at a plus-27. He earned enough trust to be on the floor late against Utah, with Rodney Stuckey on the bench, and was the second option on the final play over players like Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva and Kyle Singler.
Greg Monroe: Monroe had double-doubles in both games with a plus-28 total. Monroe has struggled in recent weeks, enough for some people to call for him to replaced in the starting lineup with rookie Andre Drummond, but he might have staved that off for a while.
Charlie Villanueva: Charlie V. has been one of the NBA's hottest 3-point shooters in recent weeks, and has been making more of a defensive effort that the Pistons had seen in his ill-fated stint at the Palace. Last week, though, he scored just 12 points in 32 minutes and was a minus-18. His shot seems to have cooled off to the point that Lawrence Frank didn't even have him on the floor for Saturday's last shot.
Tayshaun Prince: Prince struggled with his shot in both games and only got to the free throw line once in 61 minutes. He's only scored more than 10 points once in Detroit's last five games, and only drawn shooting fouls three times.
Thursday: Detroit vs. New York in London, England - 3 p.m. EST. The Pistons get another four-day break, but this one involves overseas travel and the hubbub involved with an NBA trip to England.
Sunday: Boston at Detroit - 7:30 p.m. EST. The Celtics come to town for what is usually an entertaining game. Detroit routed Boston 103-83 for their first home win back on Nov. 18.