Knowing he’ll need him in playoffs, SVG folding Stanley Johnson back into Pistons rotation

Stanley Johnson will be back in Stan Van Gundy’s rotation for tonight’s game against Miami as the Pistons look ahead to the playoffs.
Chris Schwegler
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Stan Van Gundy says the Pistons home finale against Miami will be business as usual – with one caveat.

Stanley Johnson is going back into the rotation after Reggie Bullock took his spot as the primary wing off the bench for the past two games. Johnson had struggled in 14 games since returning from a seven-game injury absence and Van Gundy prefers a nine-man rotation to a 10-man group. But folding Johnson back into the mix is Van Gundy’s minor concession to playoff preparation over the urgency of winning.

“We are, in the next two games, going to make sure Stanley gets some playing time because we think there’s some matchups in the playoffs where defensively he can really help us off the bench,” Van Gundy said after shootaround today. “I don’t want him to sit for four games and then try to get ready to play for the playoffs. So they’ll both play tonight.”

Miami goes into its final two games as one of four teams in a logjam for the third and fourth seeds and home-court advantage in the first round. The Heat got a boost Monday night when Charlotte won at Boston and Atlanta lost at Cleveland, leaving Miami (47-33) a half-game behind Atlanta (48-33) and a half-game ahead of Boston and Charlotte (both 47-34). The Heat finish at Boston.

For that reason, as well, Van Gundy will play it straight. His two closest friends among NBA head coaches are two of the four involved in the chase for home court, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Charlotte’s Steve Clifford. The Pistons could finish either seventh or eighth, though they need to finish one game ahead of Indiana – which holds the tiebreaker over the Pistons – and the teams go into tonight’s games with identical 43-37 records.

“Two things tonight – still fighting for a higher seed and there’s implications the other way for home court,” Van Gundy said. “I believe in the integrity of the game. I know not everyone does – ‘You just take care of your own team.’ But I know if we were in that situation where we’d lost to Washington and needed people to win and people decided to rest everybody, you’re not going to be too happy. So there’s four teams fighting for home court and that’s another reason for us.”

How Van Gundy plays it on Wednesday at Cleveland in the regular-season finale will depend in part on what happens on Tuesday. The Cavaliers clinched home court throughout the first three rounds with Monday’s win over Atlanta and coach Ty Lue has said he’ll be very conservative with his key players for Wednesday’s game. The only way the Pistons would have nothing on the line Wednesday would be if they lost to Miami and Indiana beat New York to settle the seventh and eighth seeds.

But Johnson will get a decent chunk of minutes in both games so he’ll be ready if needed for either Cleveland or Toronto in the playoffs. The rookie has never experienced sitting out entire games, so Van Gundy wants him back in the flow before he needs to call on him.

“I want to get him back in there so that he’s getting back into some sort of rhythm,” he said. “It’s not ideal because those guys will have to split minutes, but I think it’s something we need to do. He needs to be in there, so he’ll definitely play tonight and Bullock will definitely play tonight, also. Ten for sure tonight. Maybe more. But 10 for sure.”