Central Notes: Cunningham, Pistons, Giannis, Lillard, Bucks, Pacers

If there’s a bright side to the Pistons‘ 28-game losing streak, it’s that Cade Cunningham has firmly established himself as the team’s leader, writes James L. Edwards of The Athletic. The No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft delivered another outstanding performance as Detroit snapped the streak Saturday night, with 26 of his 30 points and seven of his 12 assists coming in the second half. He managed to play 38 minutes without a single turnover.

“I’ve always liked when everyone is tuned in,” Cunningham said. “It’s not that I change my approach or feel any different. (Having people watch) does something to me. The stakes were getting higher and higher. I know I had to up my play. I just had to figure out what else my team needed from me. I needed to elevate my game (to end this losing streak). This is where it took me.”

Cunningham did some soul searching during the losing streak, Edwards adds, as his play during the first 14 games of the slide wasn’t up to the standards he set for himself. That changed about a month ago, and he’s averaging 25.6 PPG since November 30 while shooting 50% from the field and 36% from three-point range. Cunningham no longer seems rusty after missing most of last season, Edwards notes, and he’s determined to help the Pistons win more often.

“It wasn’t that I questioned myself if I was ‘the guy’ (to help turn a franchise around) because my faith has been strong and has gotten stronger with this,” Cunningham said. “I know God put me in this position for a reason. However, I knew I wasn’t doing enough. My game wasn’t at the level it needed to be to help turn this franchise around. As much as it sucked, this streak, I feel like I learned a ton about myself, which is something I want to live with forever. I did a lot of reflecting every night.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The relief of finally getting a victory after two months of losing led to an emotional post-game scene for the Pistons, according to an ESPN report. “I’ve been in a ton of locker rooms my whole life, but that’s a first for me,” coach Monty Williams said. “Guys were screaming. I was almost in tears. I’m just so happy for our guys and for everyone in the locker room.”
  • Bucks coach Adrian Griffin credits the chemistry between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard for helping the team overcome a 15-point deficit Friday night at Cleveland, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic. A little more than two months into their partnership, the two All-Stars have figured out the best way to attack opposing defenses. You could see Giannis started to trust Dame and they go into the two-man game and it’s hard to stop,” Griffin said. “They went into our pitch action and that was beautiful and we need more of that from those two guys. And I had nothing to do with that. They took it upon themselves. There’s times where I’m trying to manufacture that type of action, where I can call a play or whatnot, but in the flow of the game, for them to just take the initiative amongst themselves, I mean, that shows our growth.”
  • The Bucks will host the Pacers on Monday in their first meeting since the game ball incident on December 13, Nehm tweets. Bobby Portis gave a lighthearted answer when asked if he expects any bitterness to carry over. “Nah, man. It’s a new year. It’s 2024,” Portis said before laughing.
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