Pistons more fluid in win over Hawks

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Pistons had their share of issues in the first two exhibition games, but coach Stan Van Gundy was looking for improvements in running the offense and executing on defense, with all five players locked in to the principles.

Although Van Gundy isn’t concerned about the final record in exhibitions, he wants the team to pass the eye test of having some success on both ends of the floor, building toward the regular-season opener in Toronto on Oct. 26.

The third exhibition game Thursday at Atlanta — a 99-94 Pistons win — didn’t do much to improve Van Gundy’s assessment of their standing.

Here are five observations:

1. Injuries a concern, again: Marcus Morris (left knee tendinitis) and Andre Drummond (illness) didn’t play. With Reggie Jackson (tendinitis) out for six to eight weeks, there’s concern but not a need to hit the panic button — yet. Van Gundy told reporters he was looking to keep Morris out for both road exhibition games and have him possibly return to the lineup Monday the Bucks at The Palace.

2. Smith gets in a groove: Replacing Jackson, Ish Smith looked in control and more steady at point guard, posting 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists (no turnovers). His block on Will Bynum in the final minutes helped seal the win. Van Gundy said the adjustment was everyone fitting with Smith — with a new lineup, it looked much more fluid, with Smith getting in the paint and creating chances.

3. Johnson putting it together: After two subpar games to start the exhibition season, Stanley Johnson sparked the Pistons’ second-quarter spurt, going 3-of-5 from the field and hitting 6 of 8 free throws for 11 of his 12 points. Van Gundy wants Johnson to improve on shot selection and patience, but Johnson did better in getting to the line and keeping the defenders guessing.

4. Marjanovic making strides: With Drummond out, Boban Marjanovic got more playing time (17 minutes) and was effective, finishing with seven points and four rebounds. He gives defenders problems when he’s deep in the paint and he impacted shots on the defensive end. He’s also an underrated passer from the post. He’s still developing his skill set, but early returns are good.

5. Defense still needs work: The Hawks were lobbing and getting the ball inside effectively against the first unit. The Pistons’ mantra for the exhibition season is improving the defense — which won’t happen overnight, but just getting more cohesion and turning that into stops is the next step they need to take. They have three games left to make a bigger impression.