The Detroit Pistons have made winning look effortless quite often over the past five seasons, but as with any team, they have off nights. One of their worst occurred in their last trip to Madison Square Garden.
The Pistons look to get back on track Friday when they face the New York Knicks for the first time since delivering one of the worst offensive performances in franchise history.
Detroit (44-17) has the second-best record in the NBA, but is coming off a 90-78 loss to the one team above it in the standings, the Boston Celtics. It was a poor shooting performance for the Pistons, who made just 28 of 77 shots from the field (36.4 percent) and scored 24 total points in the first and fourth quarters.
"We didn't play how we need to play offensively," coach Flip Saunders said. "You do that, you don't give yourself a good chance against a good team."
However, it was far from the worst offensive outing of the season for Saunders' club. That came Jan. 13, when the Pistons traveled to New York to face the Knicks, who had lost nine of 10 coming in.
Detroit shot 30.7 percent (23-of-75) in a stunning 89-65 loss, and only a 3-point play with 13 seconds left allowed it to avoid finishing with the lowest point total in franchise history.
"We couldn't make a shot and we couldn't stop them from hitting a shot," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said afterward. "That is a deadly combination. We just couldn't throw a rock in the ocean."
The Pistons allow just 90.3 points per game, fewest in the Eastern Conference, but when they've shot poorly they've found it difficult to win in spite of their excellent defense. Detroit is 3-9 when it shoots 40.0 percent or worse, compared to 41-8 when it tops that mark.
Billups hasn't shot particularly well recently -- he's hit on 41.8 percent in his last seven games -- but he's been by far the Pistons' best player during that stretch, averaging 21.9 points and 8.1 assists.
Richard Hamilton, Detroit's leading scorer at 18.0 points per game, has had two wildly different performances among his last three games at Madison Square Garden. He scored a career-high 51 points in the Pistons' 151-145 triple-overtime loss on Dec. 27, 2006, then had just three in the Jan. 13 defeat.
Hamilton's effort was the last 50-point performance against the Knicks (18-43) until Wednesday night, when Cleveland's LeBron James scored 50 to go along with 10 assists and eight rebounds in a 119-105 win. New York fell for the 15th time in 19 games.
"I have been on the receiving end a couple of times when I was a player," said Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, a 12-time All-Star with the Pistons. "When you get a guy on the roll like that -- it is tough to overcome."
Jamal Crawford is another player that has been on a roll lately. New York's leading scorer (20.8 ppg) is averaging 25.4 points along with 5.7 assists over his last seven games.
Knicks leading rebounder Zach Randolph (10.2 per game), was expected to return against Cleveland after missing two contests with a sore foot, but didn't play. He'll be a welcome addition if he can come back to face the Pistons -- Randolph is averaging 25.4 points in his last five games against Detroit.
The Pistons have won 10 of their last 13 against the Knicks, but have dropped three of four in New York.