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Beard: Pistons can leap into break on right foot

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Pistons forward Blake Griffin met the media following Monday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Rod Beard, Detroit News

The calendar won’t read today as being Friday, but for all intents and purposes, it is.

The Pistons have one last game before the All-Star break, a six-day respite where they can rest, refresh and recoup before beginning the final 25-game stretch of the season.

“The sooner we pick up that energy defensively, it’s going to translate to our offense,” Pistons ...more
“The sooner we pick up that energy defensively, it’s going to translate to our offense,” Pistons center Andre Drummond says.
Clarence Tabb Jr., Detroit News

Just one more game.

The Pistons (27-29) face the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena, an opportunity to finish on a high note — one game under .500 — before the players head out to their various destinations to get a break from the grind of the season.

Then, it’s back to work. And it won’t be easy, with six of the first eight games after the break against teams currently in playoff position in the Eastern Conference. If the past couple weeks have shown anything, it’s that there are no sure wins, nor sure losses.

Even with the additions of Blake Griffin, James Ennis III and Jameer Nelson, it’s going to take time for them to get acclimated to the Pistons’ system on offense and defense and to learn their new teammates’ tendencies. Since Thursday’s trades, the Pistons haven’t had a full practice with Ennis, only one with Nelson and a handful with Griffin.

The few days after the break will provide some valuable time to help those issues.

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“It’s definitely going to be much-needed practice time with James and Jameer and Blake,” Andre Drummond said Monday. “That practice time is going to be huge for us to buckle down and get wins the last part of the season.”

They won’t just be able to buzz past Wednesday’s game, either. On Sunday, the Hawks, who have the second-worst record in the NBA, stunned the Pistons, who can ill afford to go into the break on a four-game skid.

“We have a game Wednesday. Enough with that — you can’t just limp into the break,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We need to get a win and keep ourselves as close in this thing as we can to have a chance to make a (playoff) run.”

While the Pistons aren’t out of the playoff race, they’re getting closer to being out than being in — or even being able to make a run if they do get into the postseason.

They trail the Miami Heat by three games and though the Pistons own the tiebreaker over the Heat, there would have to be a drastic turnaround from the Pistons’ recent play to consider them a postseason contender. Of their remaining schedule, only 10 of the 25 games are at home and there’s a daunting six-game Western trip that awaits them in mid-March.

The Pistons are only 9-17 on the road this season and only 16-19 against the East, which won’t measure up in the event of tiebreakers.

The difference isn’t as much Xs and Os as it is just effort and want-to. They’ve had it in many games, with big wins over top-tier teams this season, but also some odd losses against the league’s worst teams.

In the big picture, they’re still able to turn things around, but the time to put it all together is almost nigh.

2017-18 PISTONS SCHEDULE

“Big picture, it’s something we’re looking forward to, but we can’t breeze past these two games we’ve had where defensively we were nonexistent,” Drummond said. “The sooner we pick up that energy defensively, it’s going to translate to our offense.

“For me, being the leader, I need to do a better job of keeping everybody positive when we do have those offensive slumps or if we do something wrong defensively. We have to keep our positive energy up to keep everybody going.”

Bench pressed

Van Gundy’s playing rotations drew scrutiny again, with Langston Galloway supplanting rookie Luke Kennard as the backup shooting guard. Galloway had another poor game, with only three points. He stayed after the game to get some extra shots up but it looks to be another conundrum for Van Gundy, in figuring out who’s going to have to sit. There aren’t enough minutes to go around for Ish Smith, Nelson and Dwight Buycks and Reggie Bullock, Kennard and Galloway all to play and be able to get into a rhythm. Likely only four of those will be able to play each night and while Van Gundy has tried to give each a look, some decisions are going to have to be made as to where the cutoffs are.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

PISTONS VS. HAWKS

Tip-off: 7 Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/1270 AM

Outlook: The Pistons (27-29) have lost three straight, including at Atlanta on Sunday. Detroit has given up 118 points in each of the last two games and has fallen three games out of the final playoff spot in the East.

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