Pistons look to stymie disastrous West Coast track record

For the better part of five years, NBA schedule makers have taken a liking to dishing out an early season dose of reality in Detroit. This year marks the fifth time since 2010 that the Pistons will embark upon a West Coast road trip of four or more games before the regular season is even a month old.

The Pistons kick off a six game set tonight, when they visit Talking Stick Resort Arena to take on the Phoenix Suns (9:30 p.m., FSD). And despite the team’s struggles on the road in recent years, this year’s club is bringing something new to the table heading in to their cross country venture: a winning record.

After three wins in their first four games, including impressive victories over the Hawks, Jazz, and Bulls, the Pistons are in position to make a statement to the rest of the league with a strong showing out west. Just as well, a road trip rife with struggle could erase a lot of the goodwill developed following their fast start.

Either way, head coach Stan Van Gundy’s keeping it even keel.

“We want to go out and play well,” he said following Thursday’s practice. “I don’t see it as a make or break trip. I mean, you can’t be made or broken 10 games into the year. Every game is important so I’m not downplaying the importance of the games. But you can’t be make or break with 72 games left in the season.”

When’s the last time the Pistons experienced a modicum of success out yonder? Well, it’s been a while. Here’s a recent year-by-year breakdown of their trips toward the Pacific that lasted a minimum of four-games:

2014-15 (March 10-March 14)

Record at Start of Trip: 23-39

Trip Result: 0-4

The exception to the rule, Detroit didn’t venture west for a four game swing until March last season. With a major shake-up at the trade deadline just two weeks earlier, Reggie Jackson and company were in the midst of a six-game losing streak before heading west. Things didn’t get better.

2013-14 (Nov. 11-Nov. 17)

Record at Start of Trip: 2-3

Trip Result: 1-3

A rough four game set wrapped up with a 15-point loss to the Lakers seemed as though it could have set the stage for a rough season. Instead, the Pistons bounced back and won seven of their last 11 games in November. Then again, they followed that run by going 7-13 in December and by February, head coach Maurice Cheeks had been shown the door.

2012-13 (Nov. 2-Nov. 10)

Record at Start of Trip: 0-1

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Trip Result: 0-6

One early season road trip isn’t supposed to make or break a season, but this run bordered on unfair. The Pistons opened at The Palace against the Houston Rockets (a 105-96 loss) then took off the following afternoon for a six-game jaunt featuring four Western Conference playoff teams. Their reward for grinding through the West Coast gauntlet without a win? A date back home with NBA Finals runner-up Oklahoma City. The Pistons opened up the ’13 season with eight games, all against the West, six on the road, all losses. This squad never had a chance.

2011-12 (March 12-March 21)

Record at Start of Trip: 15-26

Trip Result: 1-5

The good news: Rodney Stuckey averaged 29 points during the team’s first three games of this particular trip. The bad news: They lost every game but one.

2010-11 (Nov. 9-Nov. 15)

Record at Start of Trip: 2-5

Trip Result: 2-2

This Western Conference binge actually looks pretty good on paper. Four games, two wins. Alas, three of the Pistons’ four opponents in this case (the Warriors, Clippers, and Kings) all won under 30 games that season. The one winning team Detroit saw on that trip, the Portland Trail Blazers, cake walked to a 22-point victory.

2009-10 (Nov. 17-Nov. 22)

Record at Start of Trip: 5-5

Trip Result: 0-4

November 16 (aka the day before embarking toward the Rockies) would mark the last time all season the Pistons would sniff .500. This was also right around the time most folks began realizing that Ben Gordon & Charlie Villaneuva may not be the answer to our problems after all. For others, that realization came immediately following their signings four months earlier.

2008-09 (Nov. 11-Nov. 16)

Record at Start of Trip: 4-2

Trip Result: 3-1

Yep, the last time the Pistons emerged from out west with a winning record, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, and Richard Hamilton were all still roaming about (and Allen Iverson, no less).

Is it time for this year’s squad to break the streak? With four of their six upcoming opponents holding a winning record (the exception being the 1-4 Kings and 0-4 Lakers), they’ll certainly have their work cut out for them.

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