Detroit has the hunger and the know-how to get to the NBA Finals
By Steve Jones
Updated: 2:11 p.m. ET March 30, 2007
The Pistons are the most complete team in the East, and they are the team to beat in the conference playoffs.
Detroit, which went to the Finals in back-to-back seasons, winning the title in 2004 over the Lakers and losing to the Spurs in 2005, wants to prove it is still a championship team.
From the get-go, the Pistons have not played at the level they did last season when they won 64 games and their division, and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, where they lost in six games to the Heat.
But Detroit is playing with an intensity and a purpose that sends the message it is serious about winning another NBA title.
A transformed team
The addition of 6-foot-10 forward Chris Webber, signed as a free agent on Jan. 16 after being waived by the Sixers, has paid off for the Pistons.
It has given them better ball movement and better player movement, which is a key to winning NBA basketball. The quicker a team moves the ball, the easier it is to score. The more passes and the more player cuts towards the basket a team makes, the more dangerous it is.
Before Webber's arrival in Detroit, the Pistons were primarily a jump-shooting team. But with Webber's ability to pass, the Pistons have players cutting to the basket, and he's finding them for easy scoring opportunities.
In his 14th NBA season, Webber still is an inside-outside scoring threat, but his mobility is declining, and his ability to drive to the basket is limited. What has not declined is his passing. He remains one of the best passing big men in the NBA, and the Pistons are certainly taking advantage of that.
Defensively it is much easier to stay in front of an opponent when the ball is being passed from side to side, rather than when it's being sent inside to a player cutting to the basket. With Webber dishing inside so effectively, the Pistons are giving fits to their opponents.
Needing Wallace at his best
Rasheed Wallace is a very unique player in that he can play inside or outside, he can score, he can rebound, and he can defend just about any frontcourt player. Wallace's talent makes life easier for his coaches, but does he always play to the level of his ability? No.
When Wallace is motivated and when his quick fuse isn't getting the best of him, he's very difficult to stop. The veteran forward has served two mandatory one-game suspensions this season for exceeding the NBA limit on technical fouls.
Wallace's ability says he should be a dominant offensive force in every game he plays, but that's not the case since his mindset is that of the ultimate team player. He goes with the flow of games, deferring to teammates when they are going well offensively or taking up more of the scoring load when those around him are struggling to make baskets.
To make it easier on themselves to win in the playoffs, the Pistons need more of the games where Wallace is scoring between 15 and 20 points rather than between eight and 12. They also need more of the games where he is pulling down between eight and 11 rebounds rather than between five and seven.
Getting it done on defense
Defense is the one thing that can remain constant for a team. Even in games where a club is struggling to score, if it digs in and makes its opponent work hard on offense, it has a chance to win a game it shouldn't have won.
On defense the Pistons aren't the oppressive, aggressive, and overplaying team that they were several years ago when they were stifling opposing offenses. They are different in that they want to keep opponents out of the areas for high-percentage shots.
They want to control games by forcing the opposition to shoot over the top of their defense. Detroit is doing a good job of staying in front of opponents and playing position defense rather than trying to overplay defensively.
The change in style has produced solid results. The Pistons could very well finish the season in the top five in least points allowed, and lowest field-goal percentage by opponents. They could also wind up in the top 10 in nine defensive categories.
Late in the season coach Flip Saunders put in a system of traps in the post, and that's clicked. The Pistons headed into the last few weeks of the regular season forcing an average of about 19 turnovers per game.
Tough at home, ready for the road
I expect Detroit to hold off Cleveland and Chicago and capture the top seed in the conference so come the playoffs the Pistons' opponents will have to be able to go into The Palace of Auburn Hills and beat the home team. That's much easier said than done.
Ultimately the toughest challenge for any team that wins a NBA championship is not holding homecourt, but rather being able to win on the road. In the Eastern Conference only one team has a winning record away from home and that team is the Pistons.
Dallas is likely to finish the season with the best road record in the NBA, but Detroit, Phoenix, and San Antonio will be close behind when it comes to winning the most games away from home.
Detroit has the kind of experience on its roster that gives it the ability to step onto an enemy court and capture a needed game or games in the playoffs.
When playing on the road, the Pistons are not only aided by veterans who know each other's game, but also by a collective attitude that tells them they can get the job done.
The ability to win away from home is the difference-maker for the Pistons over any other team in the East save Miami -- which also can win on the road, but only if the Heat have Dwyane Wade back in their lineup.
Miami is hopeful that by the playoffs Wade has returned from a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder. But to repeat as conference champions, the Heat will also need Shaquille O'Neal and his teammates to up their level of play. It will take a dominant effort from Wade and O'Neal for Miami to win a playoff series over Detroit.
Detroit is in better emotional and physical shape than any other team in the East. The Pistons have been to the peak of the NBA mountain. They know what it takes to win a title, and they are intent on hanging another championship banner in The Palace.