As frustration mounts, SVG takes Pistons focus back to the basics

Stanley Johnson is one of the players that new player development coach D.J. Bakker has worked with since being hired last month.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – The longer the Pistons struggle, the tougher it becomes to muster enthusiasm for all the little housekeeping chores that go into winning.

And the more determined Stan Van Gundy becomes to emphasize them, lest the season spin out of control and land in a heap of frustration.

The Pistons, who’ve lost nine of 11 to fall five games behind Miami in the playoff race with 18 to play, are scuffling offensively. The most dramatic difference is reflected in their 3-point shooting, which is 23rd in the NBA since Feb. 1 after ranking No. 4 until that point.

So while fans and even players might focus on whether the ball goes through the net or not – and whether the Pistons have more points on their side of the scoreboard when the night’s over – Van Gundy’s mission is to bend it to the building blocks at the bottom of the pyramid of ingredients to success.

“It’s hard to come in and tell a team, ‘We’ve got to make more shots.’ Our focus today was on the things we can control every night,” he said. “Getting back on defense, getting matched up, pulling in and taking the roll man, blocking guys out, setting screens, moving the ball. That stuff you can do every night and we’re not doing them consistently.”

Van Gundy knows he’s dealing with a team exhibiting signs of physical and emotional fatigue, compounded greatly by bubbling frustration. It bubbled over for Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin – the latter averaging 28 points a game over the last two losses but not getting nearly enough complementary scoring around him – in Monday’s loss at Cleveland when both were hit with technical fouls.

Does it become more difficult to sell the value of unyielding commitment to the laundry list of blue-collar chores amid that cauldron of components?

“We said this today: This is where you’re tested as a player, as a teammate, as a person,” Van Gundy said. “What do you want? People to feel sorry for you? That’s not going to happen. Is it harder to get an enthusiasm for that? Absolutely. Everything’s harder when you’re not winning. That’s not an excuse, just because it’s harder. It’s harder for all of us. It’s harder for coaches to sit down and do their film. But you plug along because you’re committed to winning and you do what it takes. That’s where we’re at. That’s where we’re trying to keep out focus and try to get out of the frustration because I don’t know how that helps us.”

  • Reggie Jackson played one on one with video coordinator Jordan Brink, who played at Calvin College, on Monday in Cleveland and he took part in an intense shooting drill during Tuesday’s practice as he inches closer to a return from his Dec. 26 sprained ankle, 10 weeks ago.

    “Did the shooting with the point guards for 20 minutes going pretty hard. Looked good,” Van Gundy said. “That’s not anywhere near like guarding somebody or going up and down or any of that, but it’s what he had to do today and he did it.”

    Van Gundy said last week the hope was that Jackson could take part in practice on Sunday before the Pistons leave later that day for an 12-day, six-game road trip.

  • Reggie Hearn, one of the Pistons two two-way players, joined them from the Grand Rapids Drive for Tuesday’s practice and will be with the Pistons probably through the weekend over concern for wing depth. Stanley Johnson’s back tightened up on him in Monday’s loss at Cleveland and he missed practice with his status for Wednesday’s game with Toronto uncertain. Luke Kennard also missed practice with stomach distress, though it shouldn’t affect his availability for Wednesday’s game.