March 5, 2024

NEW YORK — The Detroit Pistons became the first team in eight years to go winless for a full month of an NBA season Thursday night.

But despite dropping a 16th consecutive game, losing 118-112 to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, coach Monty Williams and his young Pistons team saw the performance — on the heels of a desultory home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night — as a step in the right direction.

“I saw the fight and resiliency that we can build on,” Williams said after his Pistons fell to an NBA-worst 2-17 on the season and became the first team since the 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers, who lost 16 straight games in November 2015, to go winless for a full calendar month. “That’s a game that we can build on.

“I’m not into moral victories. I don’t know where that came from. Doesn’t make sense. But that was something — that game, that output, that energy, production from our group — [that] is something that I’m proud of. That’s the kind of competitive edge that we have to play with every single night.”

Coming off a 26-point drubbing at the hands of the Lakers Wednesday, Detroit hung in with the Knicks (11-7) throughout this one, and even led in the fourth quarter before a long scoring drought saw the Knicks go on a run to put the game out of reach.

Some familiar issues befell Detroit, including being outscored by 9 points at the free throw line, as well as allowing New York to have the same margin in second-chance points and committing 20 turnovers. Yet guard Cade Cunningham‘s message to the team when it returned to the locker room, Williams said, was, “We got our swag back.”

“Yeah, I think it’s something we could definitely build off of,” said Cunningham, who finished with 31 points and 8 assists but had seven of those 20 turnovers. “[Wednesday against the Lakers], you have no chance in this league playing like that. But today, that’s got to be our baseline, our minimum, and we can build off of that.”

In an attempt to change things up, Williams also made a couple of significant moves to the team’s starting lineup, removing both Jaden Ivey and Ausar Thompson — the team’s past two No. 5 overall selections, and the latter of whom had started every game this season until Thursday night — and replacing them with Killian Hayes and Isaiah Livers.

Williams said both moves were made with a purpose. Hayes over Ivey was to move Cunningham off the ball more, while Livers for Thompson was made to give Detroit more spacing on the floor.

“When you lose this many games, you got to make changes,” Williams said. “We’re not going to leave any stone unturned. We’re going to look at every lineup possible to give ourselves a chance to win games and grow as a team. And so there may be more changes. We’re just going to do everything we can to put the guys in the position to win. And we had a chance tonight.”

Both Ivey and Thompson said they didn’t change their approach whether they were starting or coming off the bench.

“Not at all,” Ivey said. “Doesn’t change my mindset at all. Just come in, try to do my job to the best of my abilities. I carry myself with a positive mindset throughout whatever I go through in life. I don’t think this is going to faze me much. It’s part of my journey.”

More changes are likely on the way, too, with the potential for veteran Bojan Bogdanovic to make his season debut as soon as Saturday at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bogdanovic, who has yet to play due to a calf strain, averaged 21.6 points per game last season while shooting nearly 49% overall and 41% from 3-point range.

The 34-year-old Croatian forward will give Detroit a desperately needed boost of offense and spacing on the perimeter as the Pistons look to finally get a win on the board after tying for the second-most losses in a month without a win in the history of the league, per ESPN Stats & Information.

“I think it’s going to give us more options to not just play on offense, but he’s a guy that fights on defense and I think it settles the roster down a bit more,” Williams said. “And then your young guys aren’t playing in those long stressed minutes as they’ve played this season.”

There will still be plenty of young players playing heavy minutes, however, once Bogdanovic is back in the lineup. But even as the losses continue to mount, Cunningham said it’s his job to try to make sure his teammates continue to push in the right direction.

“I think just trying to grow an inch every day,” Cunningham said. “Each day get better, get back to the house tonight, rest and be ready to work for the next day. We just got to keep marching and keep each other together and keep each other afloat and lean on each other.”

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