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Pistons hone in on strengths after roller-coaster start

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

New York — While it's certainly better than last season's 5-23 start, the Pistons' first 17 games have been something of a roller coaster ride.

The ups and downs have been somewhat puzzling and the side-to-side shifts within the journey have been jarring enough to give some fans reaching for their Dramamine. The good news, though, was that the Pistons hadn't dipped below .500 in the first 16 games, until Sunday night's 87-83 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Along the way, there have been plenty of noteworthy wins but also some head-scratching losses. After winning the first two on the West Coast trip, they dropped four straight, including to the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers, who each had one win at the time.

They led Western Conference powers Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder by double digits before losing and had their most lopsided loss of the season — by 21 points — at Milwaukee last week.

Count Sunday night's loss to the Nets as another of those head-scratchers.

It's almost formulaic that they play up to the level of competition for long stretches of games — but then down to the level of some of the struggling teams.

"We've done that multiple times this year — too many times. Hopefully this is the last time and the one that gets our attention," Anthony Tolliver said Sunday. "It's something I mentioned to the team multiple times: these are the games we've been struggling with all year, against teams we're supposed to beat.

"We continue to lose to these teams and we can't do this anymore. Sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other. Hopefully after losing a few of these, people realize we can't bring inconsistent effort."

Although the offense has had its struggles, ranking 26th in the league at 96.3 points per game, the defense is the focal point for Van Gundy.

"I know who we have to be — we have to be a team that relies on our defense and our rebounding. So far, that's held out," Van Gundy said. "When we've done those things, we've been pretty good.

"We can still get better; we're 10th in the league defensively right now. We need to bring that up, but certainly our defensive rebounding is our identity."

Mini-slump for Tolliver

After slumping for four games, shooting 1-of-13 on 3-pointers, Tolliver had bounced back, going 9-of 16 in his last three games. It started in the blowout loss at Milwaukee, when he hit three triples in extended playing time because of the lopsided score. But it's continued since, with four more against the Heat and two vs. the Thunder.

Then he went 0-of-5 Sunday against the Nets but Tolliver isn't letting it get in his head.

"I've been shooting just fine the last three games. I'm in a mini-slump and had a bad game tonight," he said. "I'm a very confident player; missing a couple shots isn't going to change the way I play or the way I shoot the ball tomorrow.

"If you're a shooter and you stop shooting, that means you're not really a shooter. Shooters shoot. If you're open and you feel like you have a good shot at the basket, you shoot it."

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

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