Time to Tinker

Winning still No. 1, but Frank will use last 6 games to experiment

Lawrence Frank will tinker with the Pistons' frontcourt combinations in the final games of the season.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
A little backsliding after the Pistons registered steady progress over the past two months, the continued hard work of players outside of the rotation and their mathematical elimination from the playoffs converged to give Lawrence Frank the impetus to use the season’s final six games for broader evaluation.

Throw in the season’s second back-to-back-to-back set of games and you get the ideal set of conditions for Frank to shake up the lineup.

Nothing dramatic, at least not for tonight’s game against Cleveland, but Pistons fans will see more of Charlie Villanueva off the bench at power forward, a role in which he flourished by scoring 13 points in Sunday’s overtime loss to Chicago. Jonas Jerebko, who had held that role ever since Jason Maxiell became the starter on Feb. 1 but didn’t get off the bench on Sunday, will serve as Tayshaun Prince’s backup at small forward against the Cavs.

Frank said, ‘You’ll see a different lineup tomorrow (at Atlanta). That includes not just giving guys a different opportunity, but with playing three games in a row I want to look at some different things. You’ll see some different things, but the intent is to win games – period.”

An educated guess: Vernon Macklin probably gets thrown into the frontcourt rotation at Atlanta, perhaps giving 37-year-old Ben Wallace a night off.

But Frank isn’t going to go off the reservation. In their final six games, the Pistons play three teams in their position – eliminated from postseason consideration – in Cleveland, Minnesota and Toronto. Two others, Atlanta and Indiana, are safely in the playoffs but still jockeying for seeding. The season finale against Philadelphia on April 26 could be a game that determines whether the 76ers finish inside or outside the playoff field.

Frank believes you have to treat all games against playoff teams equally. He recalls one season when he was New Jersey’s coach and the Nets needed to win their final game against Boston, which was coming off of a game against the team the Nets needed to beat out, Cleveland. In both games, Doc Rivers played his starters in the first half and his bench in the second.

“It’s important to be consistent,” he said. “The other one I remember is Larry Brown. Detroit had already secured the No. 1 seed. They were playing Cleveland at home; it was an ABC game. LB played his guys the regular deal to preserve the integrity of the playoff face. When you’re not a playoff team, it’s a little bit different. But I still think you have to play to win. You just try to do things as fairly as you can. The one thing you never want to do is mess with the game.”