Van Gundy plots to pull Pistons out of tailspin

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Stan Van Gundy talks to Ish Smith during the second half Monday night.

Auburn Hills — Over the past three games, the Pistons’ defense hasn’t been good and their shots aren’t falling either.

It’s been a recurring theme throughout this season and last, but it’s rearing its ugly head again at the wrong time, as the Pistons try to pull out of their nosedive of four losses in the past five games.

Coach Stan Van Gundy said he plans to make changes to the starting lineup, which he says has been ineffective all season, to try to stem the tide.

“I definitely know where I’m leaning. I just don’t want to discuss it with you guys,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “I’ll talk to you about it after the game tomorrow night.”

But the sky isn’t falling and there’s no panic — at least not yet.

After their third straight double-digit loss, the Pistons are in a tailspin, with a daunting schedule approaching in the next two weeks. If they don’t pull out soon, they could find themselves in a deep hole, trying to dig out just to get back to .500. Though there’s a high probability for some drastic change, forward Marcus Morris said the team is just going through a rough patch where things aren’t working on either end of the court but that they can work out their issues.

“At the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world,” he said Monday. “Every position, starting with me and everybody, we have to respond better.”

That improvement started in Tuesday’s practice, which Van Gundy called a normal practice, without the yelling and screaming that one would expect after a lackluster performance in a 31-point loss to the Bulls on Monday.

The key was getting back to basics, which begins with more effort on both ends of the floor.

“You’ve got to play a lot harder — that’s always the starting point. Until you do that, nothing else matters,” Van Gundy said. “No matter what we would do with anything else, if we played at the same pace, energy level, intensity level as we played (Monday) night, nothing would be better.

“That’s where it starts: Run up and down the floor. Get down in a stance and play hard. That’s where it all starts, and that’s where it always starts.”

While Van Gundy admitted he’s not going to make changes just for change’s sake, he does want to get more energy, not only in the starting group but on the bench. From his view, the issues are more about a style of play and attitude than the passing or ball distribution, which were the subjects of a team meeting on Saturday.

Van Gundy derides value of players-only meeting

“We can (make changes) — and we will — but the biggest change is how we play. There’s no magical thing,” Van Gundy said. “If we put five different guys out there and they don’t play any harder than the guys who were playing before, nothing’s going to change.

“We don’t have a magical guy who’s going to turn it around on his own (give this guy more minutes).”

The Pistons (14-16) are in another rut, not unlike ones they’ve gone through for most of their up-and-down season, which featured a 4-2 start, a 2-7 stretch, a bounce-back at 5-1 and the current 3-6 skid.

It’s a similar back-and-forth that most of the teams in the East are going through. The Pistons are in 10th place, but only 1½ games out of a playoff spot — and just 2½ games from the No. 3 seed.

So all is not lost — yet.

“Why it turned as quickly as it did on us, I don’t really know,” Van Gundy said. “After the Dallas game, we all still felt pretty good and things were moving along and then three of our worst four games of the year.”

The drastic turn in their defensive intensity and quality of play has the players in the locker room rethinking how they approach things. Center Andre Drummond said he’s still trying to figure out where things went off the tracks.

“I’m flabbergasted with the stuff that’s going on right now, to be honest,” Drummond said. “Guys aren’t hanging their heads. Nobody likes to lose. We know what we did wrong and have been doing wrong the past few nights.

“We can’t feel sorry for anybody but ourselves; we’re doing this to ourselves. It’s not what Stan is doing or the next guy is doing. We’re doing it as a collective group; we’re not in sync and coming together as one to win a basketball game.

While the complaints about not seeing the ball enough and getting better ball movement are valid, to some degree, Van Gundy isn’t going to let it drag down his principles.

“I told them today and made it pretty clear that I don’t really care," Van Gundy said. "To a degree you do, but then you get to a point after these three games. My basic message today was, ‘Do your job.’"

Gores helps needy

Pistons owner Tom Gores got in the holiday spirit by donating about 13,000 toys and 1,400 bikes and helmets to families around Detroit, Flint and surrounding areas, through the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.

“The holidays should be a special time for kids and their families and we want to help brighten up the season. We have been working with Toys for Tots for a long time,” Gores said in a statement. “We’re proud to work together to bring more hope and happiness into the lives of Michigan’s children.”

Pistons vs. Grizzlies

Tipoff: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., The Palace of Auburn Hills

TV / radio: FSD / WMGC

Notes: The Pistons (14-16) have lost four of five and start a stretch of five games against teams with winning records. Look for a new starting lineup, possibly with forward Jon Leuer (11 points, 6.3 rebounds) getting more minutes.

Twitter @detnewsRodBeard