Extra Pass: Are the Detroit Pistons putting a new twist on tanking or being lousy?

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BOSTON – There can be a fine line between unintentionally losing and tanking.

Tanking is encouraging, on some level, your own team to lose in order to gain better position for the draft. That can mean assembling a weak roster, increasing playing time for young and unready players, sitting good players longer due to injury and/or not playing with maximum effort.

Of course, some teams do none of those things and still lose. See the Knicks, New York.

So, how can we tell when a losing teams are tanking and when they’re not?

I’d argue the most sure-fire clue is how much playing time they give their best players. The fewer the minutes, the more likely teams are to be tanking and vice versa.

But the Detroit Pistons are turning that theory on its head.

The Pistons use Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond more than 18 minutes per game, a solid chunk of playing time for arguably the team’s top three players.

“We want to get our best players on the floor together, and that’s just the way we do it,” Pistons coach John Loyer said.

Makes sense.

Except Detroit has been terrible in the 1,140 minutes the trio has shared the court. The offense lacks spacing, and the defense is even worse.

With those three, Detroit’s net rating is -7.5. Of the 43 threesomes to play together so much this season, only one has been worse and just two others are even in the range.

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The only worse trio played for the lowly Philadelphia 76ers – Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. But Hawes plays for the Cavaliers now, and Turner is with the Pacers. Soon, Smith-Monroe-Drummond will pass that Philadelphia unit in minutes.

The other two similar lineups belong to the Pistons, but they’re really the result of Smith-Monroe-Drummond bringing down everything. One features Jennings rather than Monroe, and the other includes Jennings instead of Drummond. Considering the Smith-Monroe-Drummond trio has played more than 90 percent of its minutes with Jennings, I wouldn’t read too much into Jennings’ inclusion. He’s just being swept along with the current.

Otherwise, every trio to play this much is near neutral at worst or ranges into the very elite on NBA lineups.

Smith-Monroe-Drummond isn’t the worst trio in the NBA. What’s really amazing is how much the unit has played.

Teams typically don’t stick with something that isn’t working this long – at least when they’re trying to win.

Are the Pistons that blind to their weak spot?

Or do they have something else in mind?

When teams tank by playing their young players, they’re also getting the implicit benefit of developing their young players. It’s effectively doubling down on potential.

Well, Detroit’s potential lies with Smith, Monroe and Drummond. No matter how unlikely they are to click on the court together, the three somehow figuring out how to complement each other would give the Pistons their best chance of maximizing this roster.

And if it doesn’t work, well, a few extra losses could help the Pistons keep their draft pick. As a result of the Ben Gordon trade, they owe Charlotte their pick this year unless it falls in the top eight. The Pistons currently have the NBA’s 10th-worst record.

The Pistons might be the first team ever to tank by playing their best players more minutes together.

Honestly, though, if I had to guess from the outside, I don’t believe the Pistons are tanking. They’ve spent too much time, from ownership down, making the playoffs the clear goal. Trailing Atlanta for eighth in the East by three games, the Pistons at least have a shot at the postseason.

Especially if they stagger minutes between Smith, Monroe and Drummond.

When the Pistons have used exactly two of those players – whether it’s Smith-Drummond, Monroe-Drummond or Smith-Monroe – they’ve outscored opponents. That the Pistons have shown such a strong alternative to lumping all three together and still keeps starting all three game after game does leave me unable to completely shake the tanking theory, though.

I asked Monroe about the possibility of shifting rotations to accommodate more two-big and fewer three-big lineups.

“Us splitting up time with just two of us on the court,” Monroe said, “that would defeat the purpose of us being on the team together

Warriors complained of no water in showers in Cleveland

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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The Cavaliers are clearly frustrated.

Did someone in Cleveland take out that frustration on the Warriors after they beat the Cavs last night?

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Players were complaining about there being no hot water in the visiting locker room showers. When they walked in, they could be heard screaming in discomfort. Most of the players emerged shivering from taking a quick wash-off.

“Man, they got to do something in ‘The Q.’ Somebody call Bron!” Kevin Durant yelled, referring to LeBron James.

No one seemed angry; the situation was more humorous.

That’s the right approach. Whenever the hot water is out in a visiting locker room, the finger is pointed at the home team for sabotage. Sometimes, heating systems just fail.

Giannis Antetokounmpo assists fastbreak dunk with football-style long snap (video)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is scoring more in the post, the basketball analogue of football’s trenches.

Apparently, he’s taking the comparison to the next level.

In the Bucks’ win over the Wizards yesterday, Antetokounmpo played the part of a long-snapping center to set up Khris Middleton in transition.

NBC Sports Washington:

Report: James Harden, Chris Paul and Gerald Green were holding back Trevor Ariza in back hallway

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Rockets players James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and Chris Paul reportedly went through a back hallway to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin in the Clippers’ locker room after last night’s game.

That’s one version of the story, at least.

But it apparently isn’t the only one – at least when it comes to Harden’s, Green’s and Paul’s involvement.

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

A hallway runs between the Clippers locker room and the visitors locker room, where players from opposing teams often see each other and catch up. According to a Rockets source, Ariza was waiting on Griffin, and when the game ended he charged from the hallway into the Clips locker room. When Rivers spotted Ariza near the entrance, according to the source, he said: “Let his b—– a– come in.” Ariza then turned his attention to Rivers.

ESPN reported that Ariza was flanked by three teammates—Harden, Paul and Gerald Green—but their purpose was unclear. “They were holding Trevor back,” the source said.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Harden was sitting out his seventh straight game with a strained hamstring on Monday night, and Rockets sources believe that he’ll be ready for a return to the lineup on Thursday night against Minnesota.

Austin Rivers challenging Ariza is juicy, but the type of thing people say during altercations. The rest of this sounds like the Rockets trying to position themselves ahead of the NBA handing down punishments.

If they were just trying to restrain Ariza, then Harden, Paul and Green shouldn’t be fined or suspended. But if Harden is suspended, he could serve his penalty Thursday – even if the Rockets are fibbing about him being ready to play (though they at least previously laid the groundwork for that one).

There’s a lot for the league to untangle.

Russell Westbrook ejected (video)

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Russell Westbrook jumped from fifth to second in the NBA in technical fouls in about two seconds.

The Thunder star received two technical fouls and an automatic ejection late in Oklahoma City’s win over the Kings last night, leaving his nine technical fouls behind only Draymond Green‘s 11.

Westbrook got hit in the face on a drive, but instead of a foul being called on Sacramento, Westbrook was whistled for travelling. That’s quite a turnaround from the expected call to the actual call, so I understand why Westbrook was so upset. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook said something that warranted ejection. Thunder coach Billy Donovan also got a technical foul in the sequence.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

The league used to crack down on that more with public fines, but the Thunder have skirted the rule this season.