Auburn Hills — With a couple days off between practices, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and his staff had time to reflect and try to figure out how to handle the final 36 games of the season.
Following Monday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings — which ended the Pistons’ three-game winning streak — the Pistons had more questions than answers. In some senses, they seemed to feel that they took a step back after taking a few steps forward. In another sense, they only lost one game in their 82-game schedule.
The Pistons (21-25) had two days off and returned to practice on Thursday, preparing for Saturday’s game at Miami. The focus remained on defense, as they allowed a 37-point second quarter to derail their chances Monday and fought from behind the rest of the game.
“I’m trying to figure this out, watch film, look at every number available, trying to figure out — not every problem, because you can’t address everything,” Van Gundy said. “It’s a matter of priorities and what we need to do to improve at both ends of the floor — with the priority for me being right now the defensive end of the floor.
“We’ve got to get better pressure on the ball, more active with our hands and our communication has to be better.”
Van Gundy pointed to the lack of communication, allowing the Kings perimeter drives and easy baskets in the paint.
That’s been an issue all season, but when the Pistons have been successful, they’ve been able to limit the points in the paint and the perimeter penetration.
Another question for Van Gundy and the staff is playing time and the rotation. It essentially comes down to having a 10-man rotation — using both backup guards in Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson — or choosing between the two.
Johnson played only three minutes in the Kings game, but Van Gundy said that had less to do with Johnson’s play and was more due to a long stretch in the game of not being able to get a substitution in before the next rotation of players.
With Bullock playing so well since returning from his knee injury, it looks to be an ongoing problem — but not necessarily in a bad way.
“It’s going to be really hard. I asked all my staff to think about it. It’s easy to say whether you want to play 10 or nine,” Van Gundy said. “The hard part is when you figure out who’s going to play when and how many minutes.”
One of the assistant coaches, Aaron Gray, tried to work on a way to get 10 players enough time that it made sense.
It didn’t work out so well.
“He looked at it and said, ‘Man, that’s really hard,’ ” Van Gundy joked. “The teams that play 10 are teams that don’t really have a bench guy they want to play more than backup minutes.”
For the Pistons, that means trying to choose between forward Jon Leuer, Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris — all of whom Van Gundy regards as starters — and trying to figure out who gets fewer minutes. He’d rather spread the minutes around and decide between Bullock and Johnson.
“With us, we feel like we’ve got three starters at the forward spots and I’m not sure I want to make any of them 18-minute guys,” Van Gundy said. “If the three of them take the 96 minutes at the forward spots, then you can’t get to (a 10-man rotation).”
After Andre Drummond earned his first All-Star nod last season, he wasn’t a reserve selection this year, meaning the Pistons won’t have a representative.
Van Gundy cast his vote for the reserves, though he couldn’t choose any of his own players. He wasn’t optimistic that there would be any Pistons selected.
“Where we’re sitting right now at 21-25, I would be very surprised if we had anybody in the All-Star Game,” Van Gundy said. “I wouldn’t say I’d never vote for a guy (on a team) with a losing record but I definitely give a weight to guys coming off winning teams. I’d be surprised.”