But the Pistons had problems of their own, although some of them were not quite visible. Bing and Don Adams, the brilliant defensive forward, had been preseason holdouts, and for Adams, at best a slow starter, the delay was costly. And Scott sensed that the holdouts had disrupted the team unity that by the end of last season had lifted the Pistons out of perennial mediocrity.
Then came the injuries. Bing hurt a foot and had to have half of his right big toenail removed. For the first two weeks of the season he wore a size 14 shoe on his right foot, where normally he wears a 12. Later he sprained an ankle. Two weeks into the season Adams injured an Achilles tendon, missed eight games and then needed another month to play himself back into shape.
Then almost the entire forward corps collapsed. Willie Norwood started the first seven games and was shooting at 54% when he complained of extreme pain in his left knee. A few days later he had an operation to remove a bone spur and still is out. Curtis Rowe came down with near pneumonia, lost 15 pounds but continued to play, though he was not as effective.
After 20 games the Pistons had won but 10. They bumped along, finally reaching 16-17, taking turns with the Bulls and the Kings in first place.
"That was enough," says Scott. "We thought in the beginning we could run and shoot. We found out we couldn't. And so we went back to the things we do best: tough defense and more patience on offense. That's what won for us last year."
The move suited the 6'11", 260-pound Lanier, who was having a fine year and at that point became even better. In an attempt to determine the NBA's most complete player, statistics were fed into a computer. They included total scoring, assists, rebounds, blocked shots and field-goal scoring. Lanier came out No. 1. After 40 games he was averaging 24.7 points and playing tremendous defense. And he was doing it with a left knee wracked by tendinitis and arthritis. Every few days the knee has to be drained, and after every game he packs it in ice to reduce the pain and swelling.
"He's our savior," says Rowe.
"Our healer," says Adams.
"Our leader," says Bing.
"Listen to those guys," says Lanier. "They think I'm Moses."