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After 2 DNP-CDs, Stanley Johnson returns to rotation for playoff run

Games 79 and 80 of his rookie campaign provided an unforeseen plot twist for Detroit Pistons small forward Stanley Johnson. For the first time in his young career he was a healthy scratch, standing in as the 10th piece of a nine-man rotation, forced to watch his team clinch their first playoff berth in six years from the confines of a cushy seat along the Pistons bench.

It was a role change that appeared to rattle the 19-year-old young gun, who battled through a 2-for-18 stretch from the field over a three-game span before being replaced by Reggie Bullock in the rotation.

“I feel like I’m a good player,” Johnson said according to MLive’s David Mayo last week. “A couple bad games. But for me to get discouraged would be like selling myself short. I mean, I’ve played so many games in my career. I mean, I’ve played three bad games and the guy (head coach Stan Van Gundy) DNPs me. Am I going to kill myself over it? No. You know what I’m saying?”

Now, with two games remaining in the regular season and the Pistons still in position to nab the No. 7 seed with a little help from the Indiana Pacers, head coach Stan Van Gundy will be working on a some playoff prep this evening by working Johnson back into action and expanding from a typical 9-man rotation to a 10-man unit against the Miami Heat.

“We are, in the next two games, going to make sure Stanley gets some playing time,” Van Gundy said Tuesday afternoon. “We think there’s some matchups in the playoffs where defensively he can really help us off the bench. I don’t want him to sit for four games then try to get ready to play in the playoffs.”

Currently deadlocked with the Pacers, each boasting matching 43-37 records, the Pistons will land as either the seventh or eight seed depending upon the outcome of each team’s last two games. With the Pacers holding a 3-1 head-to-head series edge, they would earn the right to the No. 7 seed if both teams finish with identical records.

In that event, the Pistons would face the No. 1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, where Johnson’s budding defensive prowess and 245-pound frame could come in handy off the bench as the Pistons battle to slow LeBron James, who’s averaged 28.4 points, 8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists while shooting an astounding 62 percent percent from the field and 51.9 percent from three over his last 10 games.

Still, as Johnson’s struggles continued, Van Gundy felt he had to make a move as the playoff race tightened, temporarily eschewing playing-time-for-the-sake-of-development in exchange for whatever-it-takes-to-win, which meant inserting Bullock, who responded with 13 points in a four-point win over the Orlando Magic.

“When you get into the last five games of the year, the emphasis tilts a lot more toward winning games,” Van Gundy said. “(Johnson’s) had 77 games or 70 games, whatever he had, of development, now it’s time to make sure we win. So your goals shift a little bit when you get to the end of the season.”

Despite a focus on winning now, with a playoff spot clinched, Van Gundy will be forced to multi-task tonight as his thoughts drift toward postseason prep.

“I want to get him back in there so that he’s getting back to some sort of rhythm. It’s not ideal because those guys (Johnson and Bullock) will have to split minutes and the whole thing but I think it’s something we need to do, he needs to be in there.”

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