CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Detroit Pistons are looking up at the Charlotte Hornets in the standings, but it was hard to believe it Tuesday night.
The Pistons dominated the final three quarters en route to an easy 106-78 victory, leading by as many as 31 late in the game.
It was the first of four games between the teams in the next two months, and the Pistons quickly acknowledged that the Hornets are one team they need to make a statement against in the second half of the season.
“It was a very important win for us,” said Pistons forward Greg Monroe, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds for his 25th double-double of the season. “We’re in the hunt right now. We’re jockeying for position with them. There’s a lot of games left but these are the games in front of us that mean a lot. We know we have to come with this kind of focus every game.”
The Pistons (21-32) now trail the Hornets (22-30) by one-and-a-half games in the battle for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
The Pistons, who have now won four of their last six, turned in one of their best defensive performances lately, against a short-handed Charlotte team that suited up only 10 players because of injuries and a Tuesday afternoon trade.
They limited the Hornets to 35.8 percent shooting from the field, and frustrated center Al Jefferson with double-teams throughout. Jefferson, who scored 30 in a loss to Indiana on Sunday, finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“It was definitely one of our better defensive efforts,” Monroe said. “We’ve just got to find a way to play at that level all the time.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy apparently had a stern talk with his team Monday, after the Pistons’ 112-101 home loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
“We played with better energy,” Van Gundy said. “We got better pressure on the ball. We did a better job helping, and a little better job closing out. It was a really good response by our guys after really being challenged yesterday.
“The good thing is, it’s a good group. It wasn’t me yelling and screaming at them. They knew. They looked at the film and they knew and they wanted to change. So it’s a group that’s buying in and trying to do the right things. We’ve just got to get more consistency.”
The Pistons actually trailed 27-26 after one quarter. But they held the Hornets to just 51 points over the final three quarters, and blew the game open with a 29-14 third quarter.
Guards Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin added 18 points each, forward Anthony Tolliver scored 16, and center Andre Drummond had 14 points and nine rebounds. Meeks was a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line, and the Pistons hit 27 of 30 as a team.
The Hornets traded guard Gary Neal to Minnesota Tuesday afternoon along with a 2019 second-round pick for guards Mo Williams and Troy Daniels, and they waived guard Elliot Williams. They were also without guard Kemba Walker (left knee surgery), center Bismack Biyombo (right knee contusion) and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (right hamstring strain).
Guard Gerald Henderson led the Hornets with 17 points, guard P.J. Hairston scored 16, and forward Jeffery Taylor scored 12.
The Hornets have now lost three straight.
“Obviously tonight we had nothing,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We had no juice. To guard that team, at that skill level, you have to be at the top of your game. We are going to have to defend and rebound, which we have not done in the past three games now.
“This is where we’re at. I just told them, I know we did not look like it tonight, or the other night, but we have a good team that can be a playoff team and can be hard to play against in the playoffs when we are locked into the right things.”
Jefferson said: “A few games ago everybody was happy, then we let two slip away and we just didn’t show up tonight. That’s how quickly things can change for us. But opposite, it can go back good for us. We’ve got a tough schedule coming up and we’ve got to be mentally prepared for it.”
NOTES: The Pistons snapped a three-game losing streak to the Hornets, after the Hornets swept the season’s series last season. … The Pistons lost G Brandon Jennings (ruptured left Achilles) for the remainder of the season. They were also without F Cartier Martin (right ankle sprain) and F Caron Butler (back spasms). … Since replacing Jennings in the starting lineup Jan. 25, Pistons G D.J. Augustin has averaged 20.1 points and 8.4 assists in nine games. He had been averaging 8.1 points and 4.0 assists in 41 games coming off the bench. … Hornets coach Steve Clifford was an assistant for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy in Orlando from 2007-12.
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