Van Gundy settles on Harris as Pistons starter
Auburn Hills — With the regular season winding down, the flip-flopping is over, apparently.
Tobias Harris will remain in the Pistons’ starting lineup for final 16 games, coach Stan Van Gundy announced after Friday morning’s shoot-around.
Harris returned to the starting five last week in victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks and a loss to the Cavs, averaging 20 points in the three games. Against Utah on Wednesday, Harris came off the bench in favor of Jon Leuer and had 12 points. Van Gundy said it was a mix-up, as the Jazz changed their starting lineup and the Pistons didn’t match it, sticking with Leuer.
Because of slow starts, though, Van Gundy is going to stick with Harris, who is the Pistons’ leading scorer (16.4 points), in 41 starts and 27 games off the bench.
“Tobias (is starting) and we’re going to stay with that. We’re going to quit juggling them — I don’t think that’s helped,” Van Gundy said. “Because of our offensive struggles and Tobias has been our best guy overall and a guy who generally gets going a little earlier, we’re going to go with him.”
With about four weeks remaining, the Pistons have little margin for error heading down the stretch toward the playoffs. From that sense, starting Harris is a tweak to the starting lineup, but it’s a change that could provide the spark the offense is lacking.
“It doesn’t change my mindset at all. We have 14 games left and we need to get all these wins,” Harris said. “Whatever coach feels is best for the team and can help us get off to better starts and get a rhythm, I’m all with it.
“From our starts, we’ve been down double figures in a lot of the games since the break. Part of it is us coming together and having that chemistry and playing a lot harder than the opponent.”
That’s not the only change that Van Gundy and his staff are considering, but it looks to be the only one they’re ready to make so far. Point guard Reggie Jackson has been up and down the past few weeks, including missing most of the second half of Wednesday’s game because of extreme fatigue.
They’ve contemplated using Ish Smith as a starter, but hesitate because of the bigger issues that could present with both the starting group and reserves.
“We’ve talked about that; I just don’t see any advantage to changing that right now at all,” Van Gundy said. “Will I look at it? Yeah, any game, any time, any thing. But not right now.
“It doesn’t mean we haven’t thought about it, but we don’t see the advantage right now.”
Sense of urgency
While the Pistons are struggling, they’re having to ward off the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat for one of the final playoff spots. They entered Friday tied with the Heat for eighth, a half-game behind the Bucks. With likely only two spots available for the three teams, it’ll be a tricky finish.
Marcus Morris is cognizant of the sense of urgency that the Pistons will need down the stretch, and is trying to conjure that fire among his teammates.
“I asked guys to make a decision on what they want to do: go to the playoffs or sit at home regretting how good we could have been,” Morris said Friday morning. “In all reality, you don’t know if you’re ever going to get back to the playoffs again.
“Some guys haven’t been to the playoffs in forever, so to have this opportunity right in front of you, we have to seize it or we’re going to regret it at the end of the year.”
To Morris’ point, the Pistons’ trip to the postseason last year was the first for Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the longest-tenured Pistons. Although they were projected to have a much better season, they haven’t met those expectations this year, with a slow start because of Reggie Jackson’s injury and an adjustment after his return.