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Swanson: For Pistons, it’s live and lose and learn – with Lakers next on the syllabus

After making the Clippers earn it Saturday, expect Detroit to give the Lakers a game Tuesday too – despite its 8-44 record

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles as he’s defended by Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Raul Romero Jr.)
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles as he’s defended by Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Raul Romero Jr.)
Mirjam Swanson, NBA reporter for SCNG, in Monrovia on Friday, August 17, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-ɫ̳/SCNG)

LOS ANGELES – I know how you are, Lakers fans.

You’ll see the 8-44 team on the court against your squad Tuesday night and expect a throttling. You’ll want to see the Lakers dismantle these young Detroit Pistons, easy.

And when it’s midway through the second half and the game is close, or – brace yourselves – the Lakers are trailing, you’ll be annoyed. You’re liable to start tweeting about . Because it won’t at all feel like a game between a 28-26 team and, again, an 8-44 team is supposed to.

Don’t freak out.

I’ve been watching this show all season. Not every episode of Pistons basketball, mind you, but enough to appreciate the coming-of-age premise: A young cast of lovable losers take their lumps, learn a lesson with each airing.

Give the screenwriters credit, the endings might be predictable, but the plots are not; there’s almost always enough suspense – and fast-paced action – to keep you from switching the NBA League Pass feed to another game. And you can count on new and creative ways to thwart the protagonists down the stretch.

A , down one point with a minute to go against the Golden State Warriors. A that sinks an upset bid vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. Juggling, fumbling, kick-balling – turnovers that almost strain credulity with games in the balance. Kids doing the darndest things, you know?

It all just makes for surprisingly compelling TV – or live theater, if you were at Crytpo.com Arena for Saturday’s matinee, when an elite Clippers team (35-16) had to lean on Paul George’s 15-point fourth quarter .

And because we’re lookie-loos in Los Angeles and not exasperated, long-suffering fans in Detroit who haven’t witnessed a postseason victory since 2009, in my household Pistons games have become a familiar source of entertainment.

We started tuning in regularly, my basketball-loving teenage daughter and I, to bear witness to the history that was unfolding late last year. Probably you did too, unable to look away during Detroit’s NBA-record 28 consecutive losses to tie the Philadelphia 76ers’ ignominious mark – the Pistons’ worse, I guess, because they did it all in the same season.

When Detroit , my kid and I were in the stands at Pauley Pavilion. Our attention – and that of dudes from USC seated in the row directly behind us – divided between the USC-UCLA women’s game on the floor and the Pistons’ game on my phone. Eventually Detroit won, 129-127, that long-awaited triumph coming at the expense of the Toronto Raptors.

High fives ensued in Westwood, because at that point, everyone who follows basketball was invested in the plight of the Pistons, this blue-collar crew up to its neck in basketball adversity.

Coach Monty Williams’ group was in the spotlight for the wrong reason, and getting every team’s best shot, as if the Pistons were a defending champion and not the team with the worst record in the league. Kyle Kuzma, being Kyle Kuzma, said it out loud, in a tweet: “At this point its like ‘dont be that team.’” That team that loses to the Pistons.

Naturally, Kuzma’s Washington Wizards – who, at 9-42, are much harder to watch; honestly, an affront to the game of basketball – were one of those teams on Jan. 27, when the Pistons pummeled them 118-104 for their fifth victory.

The Pistons are what “It Was Closer Than the Score Indicates” would look like if it was a team. They might have the worst record, but they’re not the worst.

As Cade Cunningham put it back on Dec. 21: “ Like, no way are we that bad.”

They’re not good either. But they could be. Eventually.

They, as in the core of Cunningham, 22; Jaden Ivey, 21; Jalen Duran, 20; and Ausar Thompson, 21. They who remain following wholesale roster changes at the trade deadline; veterans Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks dealt away for less heralded players who, the thinking seems to be, will give the kids more of the floor.

Space to make more mistakes, to live and learn, as we all do, no matter how many times any of us have been around the block.

“You’re always learning,” said the Pistons’ veteran coach Williams, who was fired by the Phoenix Suns last season, a year after winning NBA Coach of the Year. “Stuff comes up that you’ve never dealt with before and you just say, ‘OK, this is one more thing to learn from. …’

“The last two jobs I’ve had have forced me to always have an open mind about the changing scenarios in the NBA; I’ve gone through ownership changes and player changes and my own job change, so you just adjust. The goal for me is always to try to win games, help guys develop and help guys increase their earning power – and never forget how blessed I am to do what I do. So I try to keep that perspective until something doesn’t go my way. And then I’m crying.”

To hear it from the Pistons beat writers who are doing a winning job covering this utterly human story every day, the players have remained gracious and good humored through it all — much more than their fed-up fan base, judging from comments online.

It’s as if this awful season couldn’t be happening to a nicer group of guys — though maybe it’s happening to the right one?

Cunningham and crew seem appreciative of their opportunity to hoop at the highest level. It was apparent in Saturday’s effort — 57 rebounds against the Clippers, a season-high for an opponent — and in Detroit’s demeanor, too. Oh, there was head-shaking, but no one put his head down, not during the Clippers’ comeback or in the locker room afterward.

What’s another loss when you had a chance to level up against blitzing from Kawhi Leonard and George?

Again, Cunningham – this time after trying to contain George as he dropped 33 points on Detroit on Saturday: “I love challenges like that.”

He’ll love the next challenge, too. Tune in Tuesday to see the Pistons try to get their lick back against LeBron James and the Lakers, who on Nov. 29, Loss No. 15 in that abysmal streak.

Spoiler alert: Forget what the record says; they won’t be easy to beat.

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