Milwaukee — The pall in the Pistons locker room was palpable.
Another one got away. For the fourth consecutive game, the Pistons were rethinking through the final minutes of the game. It was the third game decided by single digits, going down to the final minutes; this time, the Milwaukee Bucks figure out a way to pull out the win Wednesday night.
The four-game skid, the longest of the season for the Pistons (14-10), comes on the doorstep of another tough stretch: home showdowns against the Golden State Warriors (20-6) and Boston Celtics (22-4).
The good news: The Pistons already have beaten both of them on the road this season. The bad news: both teams are coming in with winning streaks. It’s a tough stretch of games, but it was no secret that the four-game road trip — part of a span of nine games of 11 on the road, with only two teams with a sub-.500 record — would be a precarious period for the early season.
“We knew this stretch was coming,” coach Stan Van Gundy said.
The defending-champion Warriors bring another tough challenge.
They’ve won five straight and though they’re without Steph Curry (ankle) for two weeks, they’re still a dangerous team. The Pistons won the first matchup, but Golden State hasn’t allowed any team to sweep the season series since 2013-14, before the current championship group that’s won two titles in the last three years.
The schedule hasn’t been very forgiving but the Pistons have logged some signature wins, already, the impressive pair on the road at Golden State and Boston. Friday’s nationally televised game is another chance to show they’re a up-and-coming team in the league and can shake off the doldrums of the skid.
“This is the NBA. We’re going to be playing against the best people every night. Even the teams that aren’t above .500 right now, they’re still good teams,” guard Avery Bradley said. “You have to play hard and get wins. That’s our main focus. We can’t keep taking steps backwards.
“We have to continue to keep getting better and improve on areas of our game and not repeat the same mistakes.”
Any long losing streak can have its effect on a team’s morale and outlook, but center Andre Drummond took the lead on trying to stay positive and keep things in perspective, especially with the close losses.
“We have to keep our heads up; we can’t allow these losses to get us down,” he said. “It’s a long season and we had a lot of success early in the year. This stretch is bound to happen and what we do with these rough patches will really show our character.
“We have to continue to play hard and stay ready.”
The Pistons have struggled from the free-throw line of late, hitting below 70 percent in three of the four games on the road trip. That included a 67-percent effort (18-of-27) in the loss to the Bucks — and those misses add up in a four-point game.
“It’s frustrating. Those are things we can control,” Bradley said. “Those are effort plays and you just have to be locked in and focused on those things like boxing out and free throws.
“Those plays can’t happen if we’re going to be the team we want to be.”
Drummond struggled, just 3-for-8 from the line, but Anthony Tolliver also missed two. Reggie Jackson took responsibility for three misses recently, but there’s really no tried-and-true remedy. The Pistons rank 22nd in the league on free throws, converting just 75 percent this season.
The bigger issue is the number of opportunities they get from the line, where they’re 26th in attempts (19.5 per game).
Van Gundy alluded to making some changes in the playing rotation, because of the bench’s poor play on the road trip. He didn’t go into detail on what he’s considering, but considering the Bucks’ 14-1 run to start the fourth quarter, it could be anyone.
He’s been down on Ish Smith’s play recently, but the only other option there is Jackson, who is playing significant minutes already.
“Our bench has not played very well on this trip and we may have to change up our rotations. Our bench had been really good for us — and now, has not been,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t know that we can stretch Reggie any more and expect the energy.
“I don’t think he had as much energy tonight as he did in San Antonio. I think we have to look at combinations on the floor.”
WARRIORS AT PISTONS
Tipoff: 7 Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: ESPN, FSD/97.1
Outlook: The Warriors are 17-3 since their home loss to the Pistons on Oct. 29. Steph Curry (ankle) is out for two weeks. Draymond Green (shoulder) and Zaza Pachulia also missed Wednesday win over the Hornets.