Pistons pay visit to Clippers to start Western swing

Off to the worst start in the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons now head West and likely will be without space-eating big man Isaiah Stewart for the length of a six-game road trip.

That trip starts Thursday with a meeting against the Los Angeles Clippers, who are struggling with key injuries and have been unable to get on track this season. Kawhi Leonard has missed all but two games with lingering issues from knee surgery a year and a half ago.

Stewart was on the court as recently as Monday against the Toronto Raptors, although he played just 13 minutes before leaving with a sprained right big toe. He is expected to miss two-to-three weeks.

A former No. 16 overall draft pick in 2020, Stewart was off to a solid start in his third season for the Pistons with 12 points per game to go along with 9.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes.

Detroit head coach Dwane Casey inserted Marvin Bagley III into the starting lineup Monday to play alongside Stewart and give the Pistons a double big-man look. Saddiq Bey was moved to the second team in the hope of giving Detroit more overall continuity.

The plan did not have immediate success as Stewart’s injury and a 115-111 defeat to the Raptors gave the Pistons their fourth consecutive loss, while the team dropped its seventh game in the last eight tries.

Aside from the loss of Stewart, going 31 of 43 from the free-throw line also spelled doom for Detroit.

“We missed 12 free throws, that was huge for us,” said Casey, whose team leads the NBA with 29.2 free-throw attempts per game but is 17th with a 77.9-percent success rate. “We were attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line but not converting.”

The Pistons are now more than two weeks removed from a promising 128-114 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 30 that has been reduced to a mere anomaly.

The Clippers enter off a disappointing 103-101 defeat on the road to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday. Paul George had 23 points for Los Angeles and helped the team recover from a 25-point deficit, but Luka Doncic decided it on a 3-pointer with 27.8 seconds remaining.

The Clippers’ Nicolas Batum went 7 of 7 from 3-point range off the bench to become the first player in franchise history to go perfect from distance with at least seven attempts. But his 22 points could not help make up the difference against the Mavs.

Luke Kennard typically is the Clippers’ sharpshooter from distance, but he left Tuesday’s game early in the first quarter with a strained right calf, playing just three minutes.

“You can’t put yourself in that position,” Batum said. “I know it’s against a good team with a great player. It can be tough on the road to try to produce a win. We almost did it. Almost pulled it out. But we gotta get a better start. You need to (do) a better job than (that) and don’t be down 25 on the road.”

–Field Level Media