AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy issued the standard disclaimer regarding a player’s return from injury, but Avery Bradley attached no qualifiers to his status for Wednesday’s game at Miami.
“I’m going to be good to go,” he said.
So run with that, all you daily fantasy players. Van Gundy always waits to see how a player responds the morning after his return from a prolonged absence, but Bradley has enough experience as an eight-year veteran to judge his body’s responses in recovery.
The news isn’t quite as cheery on Stanley Johnson, who sat out Saturday’s defensive masterpiece against San Antonio – a 14-point win in which the Spurs were held to 79 points and 37 percent shooting – did not practice Tuesday and was classified as “doubtful at best” for the first Pistons game of 2018.
But getting Bradley back for a team that was without four of its top seven rotation players to start the season – Reggie Jackson and Jon Leuer (keep reading for an update) remain out with no reliable guesses at return dates – for the San Antonio win qualifies as very good news.
Bradley returns to altered roles at both ends, though, due to Jackson’s absence. With Ish Smith starting at point guard, the cross-matching that Van Gundy employed with his guards will be less frequent.
“That’s a little different in being able to always stick him on point guards because Reggie Jackson is actually bigger than Avery,” Van Gundy said. “And he’s strong and the best part of Reggie Jackson’s defense is his post defense, so you could play him on a lot bigger people. With Ish, that’s a lot different. So matchups will be a little different. Even though Avery’s back, his defensive impact – he’ll do a good job – may not be quite what it was.”
Bradley relishes the challenge of guarding the best backcourt player every night, but he’s as determined to make life difficult for whomever he’s assigned as ever.
“It doesn’t matter. That’s one of my roles on this team – every single night, try to go out there and execute that at a high level. The good thing is we have guys that have the same mindset. We have to go out there and have each other’s back. No matter who you’re guarding, go out there and play hard on defense.”
On offense, Bradley – as all starters must – will need to be conscious of running the floor harder to fully exploit Smith’s pace-pushing strengths. In the half-court, the Pistons are a more egalitarian bunch without Jackson’s rim attacks as the dominant force. Van Gundy said they’ve played through their wings – Tobias Harris, Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway in the absence of Bradley and Johnson – in the games played without Jackson.
“I just have to make the adjustments,” Bradley said. “I know it’s going to be an easy adjustment for me because we have a lot of guys that play the right way and are going to make the right play. It’s my job to figure out where I fit and work off of those guys.”
Wednesday will mark one day shy of three weeks since Bradley’s last game, the win at Atlanta to snap a seven-game losing streak. The Pistons went 5-2 in his absence and he saw a team that pulled out of its skid “by sticking together. Not only sticking together, executing the coach’s game plan. We had a chance to get into practice and fix our mistakes. We’ve been playing great basketball, but it’s been starting on the defensive end. We have to continue to have that mindset.”