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Motown Magic

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'Sheed was part of a starting lineup that was the same for an NBA-record 73 straight games this season.
'Sheed was part of a starting lineup that was the same for an NBA-record 73 straight games this season.
John Biever/SI

By Chris Ballard

Comparisons are often made between jazz and basketball -- the free-form improvisation of a fast break, the singularity of a no-look pass. As John Edgar Wideman wrote, "Every note, move, solo, pat of the ball happens only once." Rarely, however, is the analogy extended to the defensive side of the game. Defense is neither pretty nor lyrical; it's often dissonant, percussive, ugly. Except, one could argue, when played by the starting five of the Detroit Pistons. To watch the quintet of Billups, Hamilton, Prince and the Wallaces shifting and rotating as one is to see defense as spontaneous unity, each defender seamlessly filling the void created by another's movement, the way water flows to lower ground.  ... To get immediate access to this complete story you must be a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED magazine subscriber. If you are not currently a subscriber, see below for a special offer.

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