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Auburn Hills — In the first half against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night, the Pistons scored 62 points and shot 57 percent from the field. It was their highest production in 10 games, yet they only led by a point.

Even with improved offense — including going 6-of-12 on 3-pointers — in the first 24 minutes, they couldn’t overcome their defensive deficiencies. It’s still a work in progress, but with the final grains of sand disappearing in the season and a potential playoff spot hanging in the balance, the Pistons likely will have to lean more on their defense.

In Thursday’s practice, coach Stan Van Gundy tried to drive that point home, and he might make changes in the last 14 games.

“I said to our team today: If we’ll defend the way we did in a three-game stretch with Cleveland, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, we’ll have a great chance to get in playoffs,” Van Gundy said. “If we defend the way we’ve defended the last four games, we have no shot. To me, it’s pretty simple.

“If we want a chance to make this run and play in the playoffs, our defensive focus and effort and commitment have to rise. If we don’t, we’ll be going home.”

With 14 games remaining, the Pistons and Bulls are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Bulls have 16 games left – two more than the Pistons – but Detroit owns the tiebreaker.

Van Gundy’s ire isn’t directed at one particular player, but he pointed out the stats for center Andre Drummond as one of the issues. Drummond ranks 38th in the league in blocks per minute and Reggie Jackson had struggles guarding the Hawks’ speedy guards, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.

“We can do a better job of keeping point guards out of the paint; I don’t think it has to be as bad as it is,” Van Gundy said. “Reggie’s capable of doing better than he did last night and Andre simply has to protect the rim a lot better. That’s one of the things we talked about with the whole team today.

“He’s not protecting the rim and challenging shots the way he needs to. That’s got to change.”

Van Gundy suggested that the Pistons don’t create enough turnovers and need to be more active with their hands to create loose balls and to contest shots more frequently. Moreover, the Pistons are giving up the fewest lay-ups in the league but the opponents’ shooting percentages are higher since the All-Star break in almost every category.

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