Van Gundy has no time to ease into player transitions

Geoff Robinson
Special to The Detroit News
Tobias Harris runs the floor during his Pistons debut Friday night.

Auburn Hills — The Pistons have made no bones about wanting to be a playoff team this season. Stan Van Gundy has said so on many occasions. But with 27 games left and new players coming into the fold, the Pistons are left in the position of trying to balance the urgency to grab a playoff spot with understanding this new-look team could take time to gel.

Heading into Saturday’s action, the Pistons were 27-28 and 1.5 games behind the reeling Bulls for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And after falling beneath the .500 mark for the first time since late November, it’s become clear to everyone involved that they need to pick up the pace to avoid a seventh consecutive postseason of being on the outside looking in.

The Pistons return to action Sunday with a 3:30 p.m. home game against New Orleans.

“I don’t think patience is really a part of it,” coach Stan Van Gundy said Saturday; he did not speak to the media after Friday night’s loss to the Wizards. “We’re getting everybody up to speed on what we’re doing, but we’ve got to be ready to play.”

Newcomer Tobias Harris had little trouble acclimating to his new situation in his debut Friday night, leading the Pistons in scoring with 21 points, even as the rest of the team struggled.

Van Gundy said prior to Harris’ arrival that he wouldn’t start him for at least three games.

Harris scores 21 in debut but Pistons lose to Wizards

At practice Saturday, Van Gundy wasn’t as certain when asked about Harris’ chances to start Sunday against the Pelicans.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not worried about that. He played great off the bench and we didn’t really put in anything new for him.”

The rest of the Pistons know they have to pick up the pace and do some adjusting themselves if this team is going to make the playoffs.

“Last night wasn’t a good start for us,” Stanley Johnson said. “But we’re paid to work through stuff like this. Our offense is not that complicated where (new) guys won’t know what they’re doing. Guys know how to play basketball.”

Morris on the spot

Marcus Morris has been somewhat of a revelation for the Pistons this season. Acquired for only a 2020 second-round draft pick, Morris has gone on to average 13.7 points and 5.1 rebounds this season.

With the addition of Harris, Morris is being asked to make a big change by moving out of the small forward spot, where he’s excelled, and into the power forward role.

“I’ve gotten so good at knowing where to be and knowing where the ball is coming,” Morris said. “It’s different, but that’s how it works in the NBA. Sometimes you’ve got to adjust.”

Morris scored just nine points on 4-for-12 shooting from the field starting next Anthony Tolliver Friday night. With Harris likely to start next to Morris sooner rather than later, Morris knows all eyes are on him.

“I’ve got to figure out how to score on (power forwards),” he said. “I’m going to get it. We’ve all got to learn on the go.”

KCP rusty in return

While seemingly everyone outside of Harris struggled on Friday night, none of those problems compared to the rust Kentavious Caldwell-Pope displayed in his not-so-triumphant return after missing three weeks with a groin injury.

“He was awful,” Van Gundy said. “But he’d been out a long time. We’re confident he’ll round back into form. Obviously, he had a miserable game last night and didn’t defend real well either.”

Caldwell-Pope scored just four points on 1-for-11 shooting and grabbed three rebounds while playing 32 minutes.

“I thought I was going to play a little less,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I’m definitely 100-percent healthy, but last night was rough. I kind of knew early it just wasn’t going to be my night.”

Waiting on Motiejunas

The Pistons were hush-hush Saturday on the status of their new big man, Donatas Motiejunas, who is in Auburn Hills but has yet to be cleared by the team physicians.

Van Gundy and a Pistons spokesman would not say if there were any setbacks with the forward who arrived with Marcus Thornton in the trade with Houston. Van Gundy did say Thornton has been cleared but can't play until Motiejunas is, as well.

Motiejunas was checked out Friday by a back specialist in New York before flying to Detroit, and the Pistons haven’t shared the results of that physical. Should the team’s doctors find something that concerns Van Gundy and Co., the trade that saw the Pistons ship a protected first-round pick to the Rockets still could be nullified.

Pelicans at Pistons

Tipoff: 3:30 p.m. Sunday, The Palace, Auburn Hills.

TV / radio: FSD / 105.1 FM.

Outlook: The Pistons have lost four straight and now face a stretch in which they will play three games in four days. After the game against New Orleans, the Pistons travel to Cleveland on Monday and host Philadelphia on Wednesday. … Anthony Davis leads the Pelicans in scoring (23.6) and rebounds (9.9).