Pistons bid to snap six-game skid, host Nuggets

Coach Stan Van Gundy admits his Detroit Pistons desperately need a confidence boost.

Facing the injury-plagued Denver Nuggets could provide the lift they’re seeking.

Following a hot start, the Pistons have lost six straight — but all but two of those defeats were by five points or fewer. The margin of their latest loss was a little deceptive. They were within four points of Eastern Conference leader Boston with less than three minutes remaining before falling 91-81 at home on Sunday.

The skid has put the Pistons (14-12) in a mental funk. They’ll try to end the streak against the Nuggets on Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena. Detroit swept last season’s two-game series.

“You start to feel like you can’t play. We’ve lost some confidence and some spirit and we’ve got to get it back,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve got to gain a new perspective and get it back. We can come through this.”

It’s not all that surprising Detroit faltered at this stage of this season. It had to play nine of 11 games on the road, then came back to Michigan to face two powerhouses, Golden State and Boston, looking to avenge home losses to the Pistons.

“When everybody was talking how great we were at 10-3, I kept saying things can change quickly in this league. And they can, and they have on us right now,” Van Gundy said. “But they can change quickly back the other way, too. So generally what I’m trying to do is tell them the truth but also trying to provide a little bit of balance.

“When everybody else is kissing their butt and telling them they’re the greatest thing in the world, I’m trying to bring them back. When everybody is telling them they (stink), I’m trying to bring them up.”

The Pistons’ offense disintegrated against the Celtics, as they recorded season lows in points and field-goal percentage. Detroit went scoreless the first five minutes of the third quarter and played catch-up the rest of the game.

“The frustration got to us (Sunday),” Van Gundy said. “That was part of the third quarter. Shots weren’t going, and there were possessions defensively where we could have done a better job. The frustration was setting in quite a bit.”

Denver (14-12), which has dropped three of its last four, also had its share of frustration on Sunday. It lost 126-116 in overtime at Indiana while playing its fifth game without star center Nikola Jokic (15.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.6 apg), who is recovering from a left ankle sprain and will also miss Tuesday’s matchup.

“That game should have ended in regulation. We had our chances to end that game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They turned it up another level in overtime. We had a hard time scoring and I think our guys were exhausted from all the energy they had to put forth in regulation.”

Along with the Jokic injury, the Nuggets are also adjusting to the long-term loss of top free-agent pickup Paul Millsap (wrist). Guard Jamal Murray played 27 minutes on Sunday despite right calf tightness.

Reserve forward Trey Lyles scored a career-high 25 points but Denver is struggling to find offensive answers in crunch time.

“What you see is down the stretch, not having a Paul Millsap or a Nikola Jokic — a go-to player that you can go to to close the game — is really important,” Malone said. “I ran our guys into the ground.”