Pistons not flashy, but don't discount their hunger
Posted: Wednesday April 25, 2007 12:30PM; Updated: Wednesday April 25, 2007 3:47PM
No team with a better chance of winning the championship is more ignored or less appreciated than the Pistons. Which is OK with Detroit president Joe Dumars, who has assembled the longest-contending group this side of San Antonio.
"I do think my team plays a whole lot better under the radar,'' Dumars said, "as opposed to being on the marquee board where everybody is expecting you to run away with the championship.''
A year ago his Pistons exhibited the muscle and macho that their critics are demanding of them now -- they ran out to a 35-6 start, their leading quartet went to the All-Star Game and, in the end, they didn't recognize themselves. Hollywood had changed them. They lost seven of their final 11 playoff games to Cleveland and Miami.
"After going to the conference finals for a fourth straight year,'' Dumars said. "We ran into a team that was hungrier than us.''
Now his Pistons are being written off for their failure to pummel Orlando in their current first-round series. Though the Pistons have won both games at home without incident, they've yet to destroy the younger Magic. Such is the evidence that Detroit is headed down the same ambivalent alley as last year. Speculation has it that Chicago, Miami, Cleveland or New Jersey will be able to exploit the Pistons' telltale failure to finish games early and often.
Dumars doesn't buy it.
"I don't get caught up in style points,'' he said. "Or style wins, where you're blowing everybody out by 20 points. What I want our guys to do is to continue to get better throughout the playoffs. I want to see them being able to raise your level of play as you move forward. That other stuff, that's about style points and cosmetics. The object is to win and keep moving forward, to get better and stay focused.''
The Pistons have a lot in common with the Spurs, who beat Detroit in Game 7 of the NBA Finals two years ago. The Spurs yielded a few regular-season wins here and there for two obvious reasons: Not only did they want to pace themselves for the postseason, but they've also been running for championships for so long that there's no trying to fire them up for a January game in Oklahoma City. The same goes with the Pistons, whose 53 wins -- albeit best in the conference -- were seen as a disappointment.
"When we had some slippage during the regular season and we lost some games we shouldn't have, some people wanted me to go after the players,'' Dumars said. "I resisted it.''
He counseled them instead to remain focused on the ultimate goal in May and June, and to learn from last year's mistakes.
"I talked with guys about not peaking so soon, because we get judged by what we do in the playoffs,'' Dumars said. "It was a delicate balance all year to do that. But this is the time of the year that you want all your guys healthy.''
Last year the Pistons were on the verge of burnout; this year they have something to prove. A year ago they were everybody's favorite; now they're an afterthought. This fundamental shift gives Dumars confidence that his team will elevate its play with each successive round.
The Pistons looked bored in the regular season -- as did the Spurs -- but their boss sees their resolve growing.
"I think we're very hungry,'' he said. "The fact that we got knocked off our throne last year, that we lost a couple of home games [in the playoffs], it was the first time in three years we had to see someone else win the Eastern Conference, and the fact that we had to hear about it. And the fact that we lost Ben [Wallace], and our demise was predicted by many.''
Including me: I predicted in the preseason that Wallace's departure to Chicago would force Dumars to overhaul his defense.
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