Beware: Detroit Pistons' longest losing streaks usually travel in pairs

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The Detroit Pistons’ 122-113 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night in Indianapolis brought them to the brink of history, though — like so much in this season — not in a good way.

The Pistons fell to 4-23, including 13 straight losses. (Their last win: Nov. 17, 97-89, over the Pacers at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.) Thursday’s loss has them one loss away from tying the franchise record for consecutive losses, set during the 1979-80 season and matched during the 1993-94 campaign. (The Pistons have also lost 13 straight games in a single season four other times.) They'll go for the record this weekend with home games against the Houston Rockets on Saturday and the Miami Heat on Sunday.

As for the streak itself, nine of the losses have been by 10 points or more, with a pair of three-point squeakers (including one OT loss). The Pistons’ average losing margin has been 10.2 points, which papers over several of the losses having featured big second-half leads evaporating like Josh Smith’s contract. (Just kidding, that sucker took till 2020 to come off the books.)

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Indiana Pacers' Caris LeVert (22) makes a pass against Detroit Pistons' Hamidou Diallo (6) during the first half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
Indiana Pacers' Caris LeVert (22) makes a pass against Detroit Pistons' Hamidou Diallo (6) during the first half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

But hey, it can’t be all bad, right? We took a look at the franchise’s six single-season skids of at least 13 games to try and glean some hope from the past. Did we find it? Let’s just say that Pistons teams tend to break out long losing streaks in sets of two.

Jan. 27-Feb. 27, 1980: 13 games

Before the skid: Former University of Detroit coach Dick Vitale’s tenure with the Pistons lasted just 94 games, including the first 12 of the 1979-80 season, in which the Pistons went 4-8 (.333). Vitale was replaced with assistant Richie Adubato, to little avail: The Pistons won just 10 of their next 38 (.263), including a win over the New Jersey Nets on Jan. 25.

Inside the streak: Every loss came by at least five points, and eight by double digits, including the final two, by 23 and 16 against the Portland Trail Blazers and San Diego Clippers, both well below .500 at the time. In all, the Pistons lost by an average of 12.4 points.

The end: The streak-buster came on Feb. 29. As the Freep’s Charlie Vincent noted, the Pistons needed an extra day of the month to avoid going winless in all of February, and avoided ending the run in March by a mere hour, beating the New Jersey Nets, 137-128, in overtime. It played out just like you might expect between the Atlantic Division’s worst (the Nets, at 27-38) and the Central’s worst (the Pistons at 14-50), with Detroit leading by 12 in the first, 11 in the second and 14 in the third before giving up the tying basket with 11 seconds left. The basket that put the Pistons ahead for good came on a goaltending call, and the Nets went scoreless for the first three and a half minutes of OT. Still, the Pistons interim coach wasn’t complaining: “It’s the best post-game beer I’ve had in five weeks,” Adubato told the Freep after the win.

The finish: There was plenty more losing to come, with one win for the Pistons in their final 17 games, but we’ll get to that in the next streak …

Former Pistons coach Richie Adubato
Former Pistons coach Richie Adubato

March 7-30, 1980: 14 games

Before the skid: After the win over the Nets, the Pistons opened March with back-to-back road losses, then beat the New York Knicks (who entered the game at 33-34) on March 5. It was the final win of the season.

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Inside the streak: It started with a hard-fought loss to Washington, after which Adubato blasted the refs for their apparent favor toward the playoff-contending Bullets: “This is the worst officiated game we’ve had all year. … It’s very obvious, very evident, that some teams are supposed to make the playoffs in this league.” Two nights later — at the end of a back-to-back-to-back — the streak was three, with a 40-point loss to the Nets on their turf. It was the first of nine double-digit losses during the streak, en route to an average losing margin of 12.6 points. (The closest loss came eight games in, a one-point OT stumble against the Cavs.)

The end: The skid actually continued into the next season, with the Pistons (under new coach Scotty Robertson) dropping their first seven games of the 1980-81 season. They finally broke through with a 112-109 win over the Houston Rockets on Oct. 25, a span of 233 days between wins. At the time, it was the longest multi-season losing streak in NBA history. (The record is now 28, set by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2015.)

The finish: After all that losing, for a 16-66 record that’s still the franchise’s worst, the Pistons didn’t even get to pick No. 1 in the 1980 draft; Vitale, two months before his firing, had already traded their pick to Boston in a package for Bob McAdoo in September 1979.

Dec. 20, 1993-Jan. 18, 1994: 14 games

Before the skid: The Pistons opened the season with new coach Don Chaney, their third in three years, after what was considered a disastrous season at 40-42 under Ron Rothstein (with Chaney as his assistant). They also opened with back-to-back wins, but an eight-game skid that started just before Thanksgiving suggested neither Chaney nor an ascendant Joe Dumars would be enough to return the franchise to its Bad Boys-era greatness.

Inside the streak: It started with a 29-point loss to the 76ers, who would win just 25 games all season, and ended with a 32-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, who won just 20 games. Those blowouts left the average margin of defeat at 13.5 points, though only seven in the streak were by double-digits. (Though every loss was by at least six points, with no overtimes.)

The end: Facing the Miami Heat on Jan. 21, Dumars and forward Terry Mills were determined not to set the franchise record for consecutive losses in a season; the guard hit 14 of 22 shots, including four 3-pointers in seven attempts, en route to 35 points, while Mills was 14-for-17 from the field for 34 points. Overall, the Pistons shot 60.3% in their 118-98 win on the road. Where did the game rank for Dumars? “There was the game we won our first championship,” he told the Freep afterward. “And there was the game we won our second championship. Right now, this one comes in third.”

The finish: The Pistons’ woes didn’t disappear, however, with losses in nine of their next 10 games (and the only win against those woeful Bucks). Still, by the time they finished March, things were looking up, with seven wins that month — one less than they had in December, January and February combined. And then there was April …

Pistons coach Don Chaney talks over strategy with captain Joe Dumars during a break in the action against the Bucs on Nov. 23, 1994, at the Palace.
Pistons coach Don Chaney talks over strategy with captain Joe Dumars during a break in the action against the Bucs on Nov. 23, 1994, at the Palace.

April 1-24, 1994: 13 games

Before the skid: The Pistons’ final win of the 1993-94 season came on March 29 in Miami. Just like in their January slump-buster, they were torrid from the floor, hitting 58.3% of their shots while all five starters — Dumars, Mills, Greg Anderson, Sean Elliott and Isiah Thomas — scored in double figures.

Inside the streak: A pair of close losses to the Chicago Bulls snowballed into blowouts in Indianapolis and Orlando. The streak was split between close losses — seven by nine points or less, including a five-point OT loss in New Jersey (in which the Pistons erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit) — and blowouts by the woeful Sixers and Bucks (again). And as the Pistons lost by an average of 12.4 points a game, they suffered their greatest loss: Isiah Thomas tore his Achilles in the third quarter of their 28-point loss to the Magic on April 19, casting a pall on what had already been scheduled as his final home game as a Piston.

The end: Once again, the Pistons continued a long losing streak into the following season, though they finally picked up a win in Game 2, 114-109 over Atlanta on Nov. 5.

The finish: The season-ending skid left the Pistons at 20-62 and with the second-best odds in the draft lottery. Even there, however, they took an L — the Bucks leapt from No. 4 to No. 1, dropping the Pistons into the No. 3 pick. Then again, that pick turned out OK: After Glenn Robinson went No. 1 and Jason Kidd No. 2 (to the Dallas Mavericks), the Pistons landed future Hall of Famer Grant Hill, who made the All-Star squad in five of his six seasons in Detroit.

Dec. 15, 2009-Jan. 11, 2010: 13 games

Before the skid: After a four-game sweep in the 2008 playoffs slammed the door on the Pistons’ run of six straight Eastern Conference finals, career assistant coach John Kuester was brought in to restore order, and big-money free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva were signed for a playoff push. It wasn’t pretty — November contained a seven-game losing streak — but after a 104-95 win over the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 12, the Pistons had a five-game win streak and an 11-12 record.

Inside the streak: Not only did the Pistons start losing again, they started losing by a lot; nine of the 13 losses were by double-digits, with an average losing margin of 14.2 points. That run included a 30-point loss at the Palace to the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 23 and was capped by a 33-point loss to the Bulls in Chicago on Jan. 11.

The end: The 11-25 Pistons finally ran into a worse team — the 12-23 Wizards — on Jan. 12 in D.C. Villanueva came off the bench for 23 points, nine rebounds and five 3-pointers in the Pistons’ 99-90 victory. Villanueva also delivered the capping quote after the game: “Oh man, it felt like forever.”

Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva shoots over 76ers center Elton Brand during the first half on Jan. 9, 2010, at the Palace.
Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva shoots over 76ers center Elton Brand during the first half on Jan. 9, 2010, at the Palace.

The finish: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before — the Pistons hit another long skid toward the end of the season. This time, though, it was a mere 11-game losing streak, from March 13-April 3, and the Pistons finished with four wins in their final six games for a 27-55 record. That was bad, but well off the league-worst Nets, with 12 wins, as the Pistons finished with the seventh-worst record (and kept that spot in the lottery ahead of drafting forward Greg Monroe).

Nov. 15-Dec. 9, 2014: 13 games

Before the skid: The 2014-15 season was the start of a new era. With Dumars fired as GM the previous season, Stan Van Gundy was brought in as head coach and top personnel exec. But little changed, as the Pistons opened with only three wins in their first nine games, including an OT victory in Oklahoma City on Nov. 14.

Inside the streak: While seven of the 13 losses were by double digits, none were by more than 16, and the Pistons had two two-point losses and two more losses in OT (both by seven points, though one OT, against the 76ers on Dec. 6, saw the Pistons manage just ONE POINT in the extra frame). Add them all up, and the average losing margin was 8.9 points, the best of any of the streaks on this list.

The end: During the skid, the Pistons hit only 39.5% of their shots from the field. They finally found their stroke, or what passed for one with their offensively challenged roster, on Dec. 12 in Phoenix, when they shot 47.6% in a 105-103 victory over the Suns. The hero? Andre Drummond had 23 points and 14 rebounds, but it was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — who had missed a potential winning shot in an earlier loss to Phoenix on Nov. 19 — with the dagger: a corner 3 to snap a 97-97 tie with 1:13 left. “I did kind of look at the bench just to let them know that I do have heart,” Caldwell-Pope said afterward. “I will take that shot any day.”

The finish: Remarkably, after sinking to 3-19, the Pistons went 29-31 the rest of the way to finish at 32-50 … and in their usual mid-lottery spot for the 2015 draft. They ended up picking eighth, nabbing Stanley Johnson three spots ahead of Myles Turner and five spots ahead of Devin Booker.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Inside Detroit Pistons' longest losing streaks in franchise history