Van Gundy: Pistons can't play long on emotion

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — One test passed, another one looming.

Clearing the Texas hurdle proved to be a difficult but not impossible task, as wins against the Spurs and Mavericks on consecutive nights validated the Pistons' seven-game winning streak.

But that's just one phase of an arduous, if not treacherously competitive segment of the January schedule as Friday's game against the conference leading Atlanta Hawks is the first of three games against teams in the top seven of the East.

Considering the Pistons appeared to be emotionally drained before going wire-to-wire against the Mavericks on Wednesday, it begs the question: How long can this team thrive on emotion?

"They've been good. You get to a point — over an 82-game season — you can't rely on emotion," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "You gotta rely on your habits and playing hard every night. That'll be a test as time goes on. We're still pretty new with the change we made (releasing Josh Smith) and everything else."

Van Gundy was certainly curious about how his team would respond, with the first two games at home before going to Toronto, not far after the Raptors' fan base took over the Palace days before the streak began.

"The challenge will come as time goes on and you're not on an emotional high," Van Gundy said. "But I think our spirit and energy will be consistently good."

Emotion was certainly on display as Brandon Jennings sprinted toward the Pistons' bench after his end-to-end shot beat the champs Tuesday. Emotion manifested itself in a different form when D.J. Augustin picked up a technical foul early in the fourth quarter against Dallas, followed by him quietly but forcefully taking over the next several possessions to close the game out.

Van Gundy certainly acknowledges everything has worked for them during this time, but he doesn't know when this team will suddenly go empty in their reservoir.

"I don't know, I don't know," said Van Gundy with a chuckle. "We've had that on our side, we've been riding the wave. We'll see."

Van Gundy's teams usually win with good defense and going bombs away from the 3-point line, as the Pistons accomplished in a few wins during the streak. But grinding it out when you're not playing well is more indicative of a team whose success can be long-lasting.

"Little bit of both. You have to be able, to sustain success, you have to win different ways," Van Gundy said. "That's how Atlanta's won. They've had shootouts and grind-outs too. There's nights where the ball's not gonna go in the basket. If you wanna be a good team you have to get it done regardless."

One mark of a good team is being able to absorb a starter struggling without needing to make wholesale changes. And Kyle Singler's struggles fit the bill, which doesn't have Van Gundy panicking in the least.

"When you're winning, you don't do a lot of lineup changing and worrying about single positions and anything else," Van Gundy said. "Kyle provides us with a lot of things, he does a good job defensively. He's a guy you can trust. He's a good shooter, he's gonna snap out of it."

In the last five games, Singler is averaging just 4.2 points and shooting 32 percent from the field. But good teams essentially begin to find value in intangibles, which Singler does provide while he's been out of rhythm.

Nobody's hardly noticed the struggles.

"That's the thing. He'll get it back together," Van Gundy said. "You're not gonna have everybody playing at a high level all the time. You hope when the next guy goes into one, he comes out of it."

Nets at Pistons

Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, The Palace, Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD+/105.1 FM

Outlook: The Nets won the first two meetings this season, with a win on each team's home floor. …Pistons C Andre Drummond scored 18 points and had 20 rebounds in their Dec. 21 meeting, a 110-105 victory by the Nets.