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What we learned

Pistons sleepwalk through win; Suns-Mavs a toss up

Posted: Sunday April 1, 2007 8:53PM; Updated: Monday April 2, 2007 10:08AM
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in the second half, Richard Hamilton hit five of seven shots and went 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
in the second half, Richard Hamilton hit five of seven shots and went 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
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As previewed by Ian Thomsen on Friday, Sunday afternoon was quite the afternoon for pro hoops. Here's what we learned ...

1. More than any other team, the Detroit Pistons are a walking (not running) example of some of the worst stereotypes regarding NBA basketball.

This outfit meandered through 96 percent of Sunday's win over the Heat, picking it up at the two-minute mark (nearly to the second) and deciding to execute on offense while forcing the ball away from Miami's Shaquille O'Neal on defense. For the other 46 minutes, the Pistons refused to follow two good possessions with a third -- refusing to cut hard, taking iffy perimeter shots, and missing open jumpers. On defense, they allowed Jason Williams easy looks at the basket, and only threw sporadic half-hearted double-teams at O'Neal.

Two minutes of sound (if not dominant) basketball, and yet, it was enough to top a Miami team that was playing on the road, missing Dwyane Wade, and really nowhere near the Pistons in terms of talent, depth, and fluidity on either side of the ball. Detroit should have won that game in a rout, but the Heat always seem to bring out the worst in the Pistons.

2. Miami could make it back to the NBA Finals this June, or be dumped unceremoniously from the first round of playoffs a month from now, and you shouldn't be shocked by either result.

No team straddles either the "us against the world" or "the world is out to get us" ethos more than these Heat. The first one led to the title last season. If they follow the second sentiment (we're looking at you, James Posey and Antoine Walker), they'll be fishing by mid-May.

And though I generally tend to give the players about 99.9 percent of the credit or blame behind what happens on the court -- to me, the biggest question regarding Miami will surround whether or not coach Pat Riley will have enough in his motivation tank to spur these guys into thinking that they have a need to "shock the world" again (again, it shouldn't be a shock, hence the quotation marks). Will Riles have the same credibility after having turned in a pair of shortened (though effective) regular season coaching efforts the last two years?

3. The Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks (ranked first and second in offensive efficiency) are two nearly perfect offensive basketball teams.

Even with both outfits playing good-to-nearly great defense at times, both teams combined for just 19 turnovers in 48 minutes of non-stop, end-to-end play. We liked the Don Nelson-esque wrinkle Suns coach Mike D'Antoni has been showcasing recently, and especially against Dallas today: attacking mismatches with isolation play instead of allowing Steve Nash (or a backup point guard) to dominate the ball every time down court. If any number of D'Antoni's talented big men find themselves checked by a smaller defender, D'Antoni needs to continue to spread the floor and attack the weakness. But don't make it too much of a staple, because that's why Nellie's Mavericks fell short in 2002-03 and 2003-04. That, and a defense that was nearly twice as bad as the Suns'.

On the other end, it was nice to see Avery Johnson sit Dirk Nowitzki for most of the fourth quarter, especially after he tweaked his ankle early in the frame (Phoenix outscored Dallas 37 to 22 as things got out of hand). Nowitzki had no business playing against the Knicks on Friday night on that bum left ankle, and Johnson needs to stand up to his star, because the Mavs need him in top shape two months from now, and not in the season's last two weeks. We're pretty confident that Avery will have no problems getting his message across.

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