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Old reliables

An ever-present force, Pistons stand the test of time

Posted: Tuesday February 12, 2008 3:50PM; Updated: Tuesday February 12, 2008 3:58PM
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Chauncey Billups (above) and backcourt mate Richard Hamilton are enjoying career-best shooting seasons for first-place Detroit.
Chauncey Billups (above) and backcourt mate Richard Hamilton are enjoying career-best shooting seasons for first-place Detroit.
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The Miami Heat team that won the 2006 NBA championship is but a faded memory, dismantled as quickly as it was assembled.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are farther from, not closer to, the championship prize they chased so brashly and unexpectedly just eight months ago. The same goes for the Chicago Bulls, backsliding from one year to the next with even less to show for it.

The Boston Celtics, all the rage in the first three months of this season, still look vulnerable both in depth and height, especially given Kevin Garnett's strained abdominal muscles and Kendrick Perkins' sore left shoulder. And even the team's most optimistic fans see this as an opportunity of two, maybe three years, tops.

Meanwhile, the 2002-08 Detroit Pistons roll on, consistently, maybe a little boringly, lacking both sizzle and turmoil while offering up equal doses of continuity and change.

Death, taxes and DEE-troit, BASK-etball. Same old, same old, without getting old to the crowds at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Let's just say that the Pistons are the Joe Dumars of the NBA, reflecting their president's everyday excellence with nary a nod to flash. And anyone who paid attention to Dumars' ready, steady style over 14 seasons knows exactly what that means.

"We have had constancy and consistency of our team over the course of these years, including this year,'' said John Hammond, the Pistons' vice president of basketball operations. "The one piece of leadership that has remained throughout has been Joe. Leadership is going to come from some place. Some places, it's the coach. Here, it's a former player who was part of two championship teams and is in the Hall of Fame.''

Dumars was the "plain one'' in Detroit's All-Star backcourt with Isiah Thomas, the reactive player who did more of the defensive dirty work. He never brought the smile or the gab of his smooth teammate, but oh, look at them now in their executive positions, not only in the standings but also in terms of respect.

Thomas, with the Knicks, is a lightning rod through losing, on and off the court; Dumars is just a ground wire who wins.

"Joe Dumars is pretty smart,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders told me last week. "This team has been built on the idea that, whether it's been a player, whether it's been a coach, no matter who it's been, if one person moves on, this team is going to continue to play at a high level. No matter who it is, they're able to keep on motoring.''

None of this is breaking news. But Dumars and Detroit are a lot more tortoise than hare and, every once in a while, you need to check in on the tortoise, which just happens to be having one shell of a season:

• With its games at Atlanta on Tuesday and vs. Indiana on Wednesday, Detroit was set up to enter the All-Star break on a 10-game winning streak, longest in the NBA. It already has had streaks of 11 and five victories.

• At 37-13 as this week began, the Pistons were on pace to go 60-22, which would give them a second season of 60 victories to go with five years of winning at least 50, starting in 2001-02.

• Three different coaches -- Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Saunders -- have led Detroit to its 362-180 record in those six-plus seasons and 63-46 mark in six postseasons. The Pistons, who won the 2004 title, have gone to five straight conference finals.

• Three Pistons players will travel to New Orleans this weekend for the All-Star Game. Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, both shooting career bests and combining for 37.1 points per game, will appear for the third consecutive year. Rasheed Wallace -- as an injury replacement for Garnett -- is back after missing in 2007.

• For those who assumed that Saunders' offensive leanings would erode Detroit's defensive presence over time, notice that his team ranks third in defensive field-goal percentage, second in defensive three-point percentage, second in points allowed and fifth in blocks. In the post-Ben Wallace era.

• Offensively, the Pistons are ninth in shooting, eighth in three-point accuracy, ninth in assists and first in turnovers.

• Consistency? Try 20 consecutive months with a record of .500 or better. Six consecutive seasons winning at least 20 at home and 20 on the road.

• A new and improved bench, manned by prospects Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, Arron Afflalo and Amir Johnson, along with five-year veteran Jarvis Hayes, has kept the Pistons fresh while providing glimpses of their future. The subs have averaged 26.1 points per game, the most since 2004.

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