Pistons work on ball movement during needed practice

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — After playing three games in four nights, the Pistons needed a break. With two days before their back-to-back games on tap against the Clippers and Lakers, respectively, on Saturday and Sunday, they finally got a respite — and a chance to work on some of their issues.

In consecutive losses to the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, the Pistons failed to spread the ball around and get open shots. Those are issues that coach Stan Van Gundy has lamented since the preseason, but they seemed to be getting worse.

It’s the rare time when the Pistons aren’t working on specific game prep and get to focus on fundamentals. The condensed schedule has prevented some of the improvement, as the team is struggling with jelling with so many new faces and trying to get used to the new system.

“Our guys have been a good practice team all year; they’ve had one bad practice. (Before Indiana) is the only bad practice we’ve had,” Van Gundy said. “These guys come and work; if they continue to do that, then we’ll get better. We took a step back in that Sacramento game and didn’t come with the right approach, but the practices have been good.

“We’re trying to just stay on top of our defense; it’s got to carry us.”

Reggie Jackson mentioned the offensive woes after Wednesday’s loss at Sacramento, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said that Van Gundy pin-pointed some of the Pistons’ poor statistics, starting with their 16.6 assists per game, which ranks last in the NBA (Golden State leads the league at 29.3). The Pistons are 23rd in points per game (98.1).

“He emphasized (the numbers),” Pope said. “That’s what we’ve been working on in practice, just moving the ball from side to side.”

The lack of movement affects some more than others, as Ersan Ilyasova and Anthony Tolliver are more spot-up shooters and don’t create their own shot off the dribble. If the ball isn’t moving around, it’s harder for them to get their shots.

“We don’t have a lot of guys that naturally move the ball: Steve Blake, Anthony Tolliver, Ersan can be ball-movers. That’s not a long enough list,” Van Gundy said. “We have a lot of guys trying to create their own (shot), so the guys who need to play off movement get impacted a lot.

“We don’t have a lot of guys who are natural ball-movers – and that’s got to change.”

Marcus Morris isn’t concerned about the struggles being a long-term issue.

“I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating; we still won some games,” Morris said. “It’s a new team with new guys. We’re not even 10 percent through the season. It’s going to keep getting better; I don’t think it’s going to get any worse.”

Morris, who is averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, has had an increased workload in his starting role, with 38.5 minutes per game, ranking second in the league. Van Gundy wants to get those numbers down about four minutes, but with the current flow and injuries in the reserve unit, it’s going to be tough.

“I’m not going to make any excuses. If I play 35 minutes, I’m just out there,” Morris said. “It could be worse; I’m happy. I continue to play. Everybody’s human, but the time is going to wear on anybody.

“I’m up for the challenge; if that’s what I’ve got to play, that’s what I’ve got to play.”

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Pistons at Clippers

Tip-off: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Staples Center, Los Angeles

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: The Pistons will try to end their first losing streak of the season and guarantee at least a .500 record on their six-game West Coast trip. ... Clippers G Chris Paul (groin) is doubtful and J.J. Redick (back spasms) is out.