Every game like playoffs for Pistons now

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Andre Drummond

Washington, D.C. — It’s a little early to say that the playoffs already have started for the Pistons, but each game is starting to take on a little of that significance.

The regular season will be over in a month – the final game is April 13 at Cleveland – and the remaining games present an opportunity to end the Pistons’ six-year absence from the postseason. It’s not the playoffs yet, but the Pistons’ mentality is shifting to one of urgency. Many of their opponents also will be trying to scratch their way to the playoffs.

Monday night’s opponent, Washington, is 3.5 games behind Detroit, and a Pistons win could deliver a mighty blow to the Wizards’ chances to catch them for the No. 8 spot. In an up-and-down season, getting a win over a team below them in the standings could provide the confidence they need going into a critical nine-game home stand.

“There’s no question — this is a big game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said following Monday’s shootaround at Verizon Center. “What we have to understand is it’s a big game for us — all of them are. It’s a huge game for them.”

Van Gundy wanted his postseason-inexperienced team to understand the desperation that the Wizards are feeling, just as the Pistons felt after losing five straight heading into a matchup at Cleveland a couple weeks ago. The Pistons emerged from that with a four-game surge, including wins over the Cavs and Raptors, pushing them back into the postseason race.

It’s a mentality they’ll have to keep throughout the home stand, as there are some potential stumbling blocks.

“This game is a big game for us; we need this one to put us in a good (playoff) position,” said center Andre Drummond, who is aiming to get to the playoffs for the first time in his career. “This is a time to really buckle down.”

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Van Gundy has been concerned with the lack of defense since that win at Cleveland, which started their current stretch of seven wins in the last 10 games. Though they played better defense in the win at Dallas on Wednesday, putting together consistently strong defensive performances has been a challenge.

“The Cleveland game is the last game we really did it with our defense,” Van Gundy said. “We defended really well in that game — kind of an air of desperation. That hasn’t been the way we’ve won since then.”

Getting in shape

Van Gundy said he isn’t concerned with the lack of production from Anthony Tolliver and Stanley Johnson in their first two games back from injuries.

They’ve combined for three points in the two games, but with the resurgence of Reggie Bullock, the reserves have been able to hold up well while they get back up to speed. In the meantime, Van Gundy is open to shuffling the rotation to find the best matchups and keep the best performers in position to succeed.

“We’re going with whoever I think at the time gives us the best chance — it’s all about winning games right now,” he said. “Stanley was fine; (Tolliver) should get better matchups tonight to get some minutes.

“The Philly game was tough because of the way they were playing (smaller lineup). That was difficult but he should be able to get some minutes (against the Wizards).”

Johnson said his shoulder still is a little sore but it doesn’t have any effect on his shooting motion or his ability to fight through screens or to defend.