Beard: Pistons' ship still springing leaks

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) had 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

In the past few weeks, the Pistons have become like a teenager’s used car: fix one thing and something else breaks. Replace that one and another issue arises.

Since their hot  start in the first couple weeks of the season, the Pistons have been trying to find some consistency and their recent drop in the Eastern Conference standings has been as troublesome as leaky transmission fluid or a bad radiator.

Coach Stan Van Gundy keeps tinkering with the line, but a recent spate of injuries — losing key reserves Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver, along with Jodie Meeks’ extended absence — has had Gundy juggling spare parts.

Coming off Saturday night’s 102-89 loss to the struggling New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the Pistons dropped to .500 and are teetering around the No. 8 position and in danger of missing out on the last playoff spot.

The Knicks had lost 19 of their last 22 games but much like the first meeting at the New York this season, they couldn’t get the stops they needed. For one of the worst offenses in the league, the Knicks looked like a well-oiled machine, hitting 60 percent in the first half and 53 percent for the game.

That lackluster defensive effort got Van Gundy going with his brash postgame assessment on Fox Sports Detroit.

“We should all be disappointed — it was ridiculous. We were just terrible and we didn’t bring any energy to the game,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t play well at either end; it was an embarrassing performance.

“We got a few stops and got out in transition but that was it. We made one run in the entire game — I’m not impressed.”

Same ol' story

In Wednesday’s loss at San Antonio, the offense was there in the first half, but withered in the final 24 minutes. The defense couldn’t put the clamps on Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, two All-Stars.

On Saturday, it was just Carmelo Anthony who got his shot going, hitting 11 of 19 field goals, for 24 points and 10 rebounds. Robin Lopez added 21 points and Arron Afflalo 20.

And the Knicks were playing without standout rookie Kristaps Porzingis (leg contusion).

“They dominate us. We can’t play Arron Afflalo and Carmelo Anthony; we have nobody to play those two guys,” Van Gundy said. “Robin Lopez always plays great against Andre — always.”

The trio combined to shoot 67 percent (29-of-43) and the venerable Kyle O’Quinn added 10 points, more than double his season average, off the bench.

Many of the Pistons’ troubles have been borne out of poor defensive stretches — and they had another in the giving up 35 points to the Knicks in the second quarter, in dipping into a 15-point halftime deficit.

While the backcourt tandem of Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined to go 6-of-23 from the field, including 0-of-8 on 3-pointers, they had to lean on their bench to get push the pedal a little bit.

Steve Blake chipped in 13 points in 20 minutes and Reggie Bullock eight points. With a thin bench, they’re going to have to get contributions where they can.

“Off the bench, Steve played well and Reggie Bullock played well, but our starters on the perimeter were obviously horrendous,” Van Gundy said.

As the Pistons get into the final 20-game stretch of the season, they’ll have to get things in gear if they’re going to end their postseason drought. They’ll need to bring their defense, offense and ball movement all at the same time.

Twelve of those games are at The Palace, including Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers and an upcoming nine-game home stand.

There won’t be any new-car shopping for Van Gundy — they’re committed to the parts that they already have.

Now, it’s just a question of whether they can get running smoothly before it’s too late.

Pistons vs. Trail Blazers

Tip-off: 6 Sunday, The Palace, Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD-Plus, NBATV/105.1 FM

Outlook: The Blazers tout one of the best backcourt tandems in the league, with Damian Lillard (25.8 ppg) and C.J. McCollum (20.9 ppg). The Pistons will look to end their two-game skid and stay in the East playoff race.