Auburn Hills — Although the Pistons had won three straight heading into Wednesday’s game against the Orlando Magic, all is not well in their playoff run.
They allowed more than 100 points in six of their previous seven games, including three of four on their nine-game home stand.
“We’ve got to play better and they know that; they’re well aware of that,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The way we’ve played the last three games won’t work and it won’t work the rest of this home stand.
“Every possession, every game right now. That’s where we are.”
The biggest issue has been the slow defensive starts in the first quarter.
It’s an odd dynamic, as teams sometimes come out of halftime a little sluggish or don’t finish hard in the fourth quarter. Van Gundy said he’s had teams in the past who have run the gamut, but it’s just another challenge to work through.
“They all know it and they’ll all talk about it,” Van Gundy said. “What we’re having trouble getting to the bottom of is why doing that is a problem — because we all know the stakes. You can understand if guys are overanxious and making mistakes or tightening up. The lack of energy, particularly at the start of games, is concerning, not just to me, but to them too.
“For whatever reason, they haven’t figured out how to go about it on a regular basis.”
For the Pistons, who lack playoff experience in their starting lineup (only Reggie Jackson has been to the postseason with the Thunder), the next step is grasping the level of play required to contend for a playoff spot, then what it takes to move on in the postseason.
“We all have one goal, which is to make it to the playoffs,” center Andre Drummond said. “We know what we have to do to get there: continue to play on the defensive end, not allow teams to come in and be comfortable.”
As they battle the Bulls, Pacers and Wizards for the final playoff spots, it’s a learning experience, but also an opportunity to speed up the learning curve to ensure the opportunity isn’t squandered.
With a young core, including rookies Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard in the rotation, the Pistons are in position to contend for the postseason for years.
“It’s been hard; there’s no question,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve got four starters who have never been in the playoffs. Reggie’s been there but as a backup, not as a starter. It’s a different experience for all of them and they’ve got to learn to deal with a lot of things — the pressure of this and the whole thing.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed Wednesday’s game against the Magic with flu-like symptoms. It’s the fifth game he’s missed — the Pistons were 1-3 the first four.
In his last nine games, Caldwell-Pope averaged 18.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists and played solid perimeter defense.
Van Gundy looked to Reggie Bullock to take the starting spot at shooting guard for a game, but that didn’t work out either.
“It was a little bit ironic for Reggie Bullock because we decided with KCP out, he would be our starter and it would have been his first start of the year,” Van Gundy said. “He gets sick on the same day, so he’ll be out also.”