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Pistons keep it close but can't find that winning touch

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Being close enough to win games but not good enough to close out victories has been a frustrating predicament for the Pistons this season.

Only one team in the East has a worse record than the 3-10 Pistons, and the winless Philadelphia 76ers are clearly playing for the draft lottery, not trying to build and compete as Pistons owner Tom Gores is trying to do with his team.

"You're always disappointed. You don't want to be 3-10," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said Sunday after practice. "Of course you're disappointed. You're not excited."

The optimism that usually accompanies a new team losing close games early in a season — some sign of progress for a franchise that hasn't won in a while — has dissipated quickly.

Only five of the team's 13 games has been decided by a 10-point margin or more — tied for sixth-fewest in the league — but the Pistons are 0-5 in those contests, meaning they're losing close and not-so-close, leaving little room for anyone not wearing rose-colored glasses to say, "We're getting better."

It's easy to point to Jodie Meeks missing the first several weeks of the season with a back injury, as his acquisition was Van Gundy's most significant transaction of the offseason. But he's not portraying Meeks as some cure-all elixir, especially with Meeks weeks from returning.

"That's just excuse stuff. You can think about doing what you need to do to get better in terms of personnel and roster, but coach the roster that you have," Van Gundy said.

"I'm not trying to make excuses, if this or that. I think we have people good enough to win.

"We haven't done — by 'we' I mean 'me,' assistant coaches, players, everybody — we haven't done a good enough job to get that done."

Holding dual titles as coach and team president places Van Gundy in position to change the roster.

December 15 is the first day trades can be made involving players who signed contracts over the summer.

Van Gundy didn't indicate that he's eager to make personnel changes, but if he was planning on shopping any of his players he wouldn't likely say so publicly.

"Right now it's not a matter of worry," he said. "I know this group is capable of playing better than what they're playing. That's my focus. I've got confidence in those players and I need to do a better job of getting us over the hump."

Van Gundy's biggest frustration is the offense. The Pistons have turned anemic at that end, their execution poor, offensive bunch, and their most reliable go-to guy, Greg Monroe, is likely headed out the door as a free agent come July.

Andre Drummond and Josh Smith are underperforming.

"I don't think we're getting good shots overall. I don't," Van Gundy said. "I don't think we're executing well enough or with any energy. We really have to go back and reteach things and do a better job in terms of screening and cutting.

"Our shooting percentage reflects our inability to get great shots. On top of that, we are missing open ones and we're not converting at a high level right around the basket in the restricted area. We're one of the worst in the league converting in there. That and our execution, probably the two reasons we're struggling."

Hurt again

Guard Brandon Jennings missed practice with his sprained left thumb, and forward Gigi Datome injured his left ankle in practice, leaving both questionable for Tuesday's game in Milwaukee.

Van Gundy couldn't help but lob a shot toward Datome and Cartier Martin, who missed time with a foot injury after training camp.

"Between him and Cartier, there's usually an injury," Van Gundy deadpanned.