AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons haven’t been officially eliminated from playoff contention, though by the time they tip off Friday night in Houston that certainly could be the case. Regardless, Stan Van Gundy will get Boban Marjanovic and Henry Ellenson playing time in each of their last four games.
And Reggie Jackson, who’s sat out the past five games, won’t play the rest of the season unless an injury to Ish Smith or Beno Udrih necessitates putting him in uniform.
Rookie Michael Gbinije would also be in line for playing time, but he won’t travel with the Pistons to Houston as he’s battling an illness that kept him off the active list for Wednesday’s last-minute loss to Toronto that pushed the Pistons one step closer to the brink of elimination. Wins from both Chicago and Indiana tonight would make it official.
“We’re going to play Henry these last four games,” Van Gundy said. “We’re going to play Boban. If Mike’s healthy, we’re going to get him some minutes. But I want to see those guys operate with our guys, so some of the guys who have been playing a lot may have to take fewer minutes to get those guys minutes. But I don’t want to just throw those guys out there as a group for 36 minutes a night. I don’t know if they would learn what we would like them to learn over the four games and if we would learn anything from that.”
A starter or a rotation player or two might sit out a game here or there to accommodate integrating the outsiders into the playing group. Van Gundy won’t play 11 or 12 players a night. Aron Baynes, whom Van Gundy said has been the team’s steadiest player over the past few weeks along with Ish Smith, will be the player most affected, Van Gundy said.
“We’ll try to get to 10 guys a night,” he said. “We may occasionally give one of our guys who’ve been in the rotation a rest, but not all of ’em at the same time. The guy who will be affected the most – doesn’t mean he won’t play – is a guy who’s been playing really well, Baynes. Boban will take his minutes and if teams go small, we’ll probably play Jon (Leuer) there, too. That’s something else we can get a look at.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who missed the first half of Wednesday’s game to attend the birth of his son Kentavious Jr., will make the trip, Van Gundy said.
“His mom and McKenzie’s mom are in town, so I’m not sure he’d even get a chance to hold the baby, anyway. I remember those days. Like, ‘Hey, remember me over here? Dad?’ He’ll make the trip, but I’m sure be very anxious to get back home. It’s an exciting time and we’re really happy for him and McKenzie.”
The couple went to the hospital on Tuesday and labor was induced. Caldwell-Pope gave Van Gundy a text update Wednesday morning to inform him he didn’t think he would make it to the 10 a.m. walk through. Another update early afternoon: nothing happening yet. By late afternoon, Caldwell-Pope let Van Gundy know making the game was iffy. He was born at around 6:40 p.m. and Caldwell-Pope, after assurances all was well with mother and son, left and arrived at the arena during the second quarter, playing 17 second-half minutes.
Van Gundy had zero quarrel with his priorities.
“That’s a no-brainer,” he said. “If that was Game 7 of a playoff series, same deal. You’re having a baby. There’s some things more important than any game. I want our guys to understand that. Tom (Gores, Pistons owner) wants our guys to understand that. We expect a lot of them out here, but at the same time we’re fully cognizant that there’s things that are more important.”