AUBURN HILLS – Containing Giannis Antetokounmpo is an all-hands-on-deck proposition.
So good news for the Pistons: four really important hands could be back in the mix for Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee and the early front-runner for MVP.
Stanley Johnson and Jon Leuer – the two players most likely to draw the assignment and the best physically equipped for the job – both practiced on Tuesday after missing the last several games.
But before you release the balloons, potentially bad news for the Pistons: neither is assured to be in uniform when the Pistons – on a five-game winning streak and sitting on a 10-3 record second only to Boston in the Eastern Conference – play at the Bucks on Wednesday.
“It would be ideal, but I would say they’re both questionable,” Stan Van Gundy said. “You know how those injuries go. It’s the first day back. How they feel now is not nearly as important as how they’re going to feel tomorrow coming off their first contact. They both looked very rusty playing, too.”
Leuer sprained his left ankle two weeks ago and has missed the last five games. Johnson has had back and hip injuries that caused him to miss the past three games.
“I really haven’t done anything in 10 days,” Johnson said. “I feel like more of getting your wind back and see where I’m at. Felt OK. Felt good. See what happens tomorrow, whether I’m able to play or not.”
Johnson was the primary defender on Antetokounmpo 11 days ago when the Pistons beat the Bucks to start what became a 5-0 home stand. While Antetokounmpo finished with 29 points – below his scoring average – it took him 27 shots and his impact elsewhere was fairly limited with four rebounds and as many turnovers as assists, three.
Johnson had been playing well, filling the roles at both ends of the floor to Van Gundy’s liking in 31 minutes a game. After shooting 0 of 13 in the opener – 0 of 6 from the 3-point line – Johnson had shot 49 percent overall and 39 percent from the 3-point line over his next seven games while fitting well into Van Gundy’s more diversified offense with an emphasis on ball and player movement. Johnson’s ability to make plays off the dribble helped further those ends.
“I think we missed his defense, in particular, and his rebounding a little bit,” Van Gundy said. “But he was also playing really well offensively, under control. Today he had a rough day offensively. Hasn’t played in a while and he looked like it.”
The Pistons managed to go unbeaten without both players and they’re one of just three teams – along with Golden State and Houston – to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Pistons are No. 7 in offensive rating, No. 10 at the other end.
“I think we’re playing hard and we’re playing unselfishly,” Van Gundy said. “I also don’t think we’re getting carried away with ourselves. It’s 13 games into the season. We’re off to a good start. We know we’re in a challenging stretch right now. We’re going to have to be better. We know all of that.”
About that challenging stretch: Of their next 11 games, nine come away from Little Caesars Arena.
“They’re NBA guys. They know playing on the road is harder, so it’s nine of 11,” Van Gundy said. “You’re going to have to play beter. We’re going to have to do all the things we talk about and do them at a higher level. That’s pretty simple.”