NBA Basketball

Pistons focus on facing Celtics, better utilizing Griffin

Stan Van Gundy spent a good portion of the NBA All-Star break watching film. He wasn't catching up on the movies nominated for Oscars next month.

Rather, the Detroit Pistons coach was trying to figure out ways to maximize his team's offensive potential with the addition of Blake Griffin. The team had virtually no practice time after acquiring one of the league's premier power forwards from the Los Angeles Clippers in late January.

Detroit entered the break one game below .500 and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons' aim the remainder of the season is to move up a notch or two in the standings and claim a playoff spot.

Van Gundy is trying to revamp the team's offense on the fly. The Pistons return to the court with a home game against Boston on Friday.

"Blake's different than anybody we've had at that spot," Van Gundy told Pistons.com and other media members after the team's first practice since the layoff. "We're not going to plug him in to what Tobias (Harris) and (Anthony Tolliver) do. You've got to try to play through him more and get him in positions closer to the basket. You're actually having to do some stuff new to everybody and that's been a challenge -- a significant challenge."

Moving up the standings will be a tough challenge for the Pistons (28-29), who play 15 of their remaining 25 games on the road. Van Gundy tried to strike a balance between getting them prepared for the rest of the season and making sure he didn't work them too hard in two practices before Friday's game.

"We're just trying to get more organized on the offensive end and trying to make some defensive improvement without killing them," he said. "It's a little bit of a challenge in terms of try to get enough done that you think you're better, and try to conserve enough energy that you can play."

The All-Star break came at a good time for the Celtics (40-19). They have lost three straight and four of their last five, falling two games behind Toronto for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They allowed 121 points to Cleveland and 129 to the Clippers in their last two outings.

Combo guard Marcus Smart returned to practice this week after missing the last 11 games. He suffered right hand lacerations after punching a glass picture frame.

"I felt like I let my team down," he said. "I've got a second chance to come back and redeem myself."

Smart's forte is defense and the Celtics certainly need to clamp down in order to catch the Raptors.

"There's no question that having Marcus back makes our defense a lot better," power forward Al Horford said. "As a group, our commitment to defense, that's what we need to do. We've talked enough about it. It has to start with our first game on Friday."

This is the rubber match of the three-game series, as each team won on the other's home court. Detroit captured a 118-108 victory on Nov. 27 and Boston won 91-81 on Dec. 10.

Updated February 22, 2018

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