New York — In the first 31 games, the Pistons have shown an ability to rise to the level of some of the top teams in the league, sink to the depths of some of the dregs and be middling with many of the mediocre squads.
It's a maddening seesaw ride for coach Stan Van Gundy, who has tried to tame the team into being more consistent on a game-to-game basis, not looking at individual opponents — much like the gauntlet of playoff contenders they're in the midst of playing.
They've gotten surprising wins at home against the Boston and at Chicago and Miami but lost at Atlanta and at home to Boston on Saturday. They had a nice 5-1 start with some impressive wins, but lost four straight to finish a road trip, falling to the struggling Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers.
Part of their success came because they played the starters extended minutes, putting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris among the top five league leaders in minutes played. After 31 games, fatigue might be playing in a part in the starting five's up-and-down play.
"They need to play better together. Some of them have logged a lot of minutes and it could be a problem," Van Gundy said before Tuesday's game against the Knicks. "We'll have to see going forward because certainly their energy has not been very good."
The Pistons have gotten down early in first quarters and have had to get a big help from the bench to stay in games in the second half. Van Gundy has tinkered with the rotation when he makes substitutions to help alleviate some of that issue.
But he didn't rule out doing the same if the starters don't get out of their malaise.
"We could (change starters), we'll see," Van Gundy said. "They've been good for far longer than they've been bad, so you try to keep things in perspective. Certainly, if the troubles continue for much longer, we'd have to do something."
Van Gundy is leaning on the statistical evidence that had the Pistons' starters among the best quintets in the league, but of late, they've waned a bit. While Morris has been consistent and Caldwell-Pope has had an uptick in recent weeks, the starters just haven't gotten off to good beginnings in games.
They fell into a double-digit deficit against the Heat and Hawks. It's an issue that Van Gundy is monitoring, but won't make any rash moves to try to remedy. He's said that he didn't want to use rookie Stanley Johnson in the starting lineup, but Johnson has grown more comfortable in playing with them in mixed rotations and his defense is improving.
Van Gundy said, though, that there isn't one issue that's plaguing the starting unit, rather it's just chemistry in learning to play better together.
'The skills are fine. We've been up and down in terms of how well we've played together and moved the ball and screened," Van Gundy said. "At times, we've done it really well. At other times, not well at all.
"That's our challenge, to develop our chemistry together, move the ball better, trust each other more. We've done it at times, but it's been a very, very up-and-down thing."
Van Gundy continues to keep everyone in suspense as to when he might use backup point guard Brandon Jennings, who is back from an Achilles tear in January. Although Jennings has been active and dressed for the last three games, he hasn't seen any action — yet.
With Steve Blake playing well, Van Gundy doesn't want to break up the chemistry the bench players have formed — especially with the starters having some issues. But if Van Gundy decides to experiment, Jennings could be part of the mix.
"When you see him go on the court in whatever game it is, you'll know he's in," Van Gundy deadpanned.