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Jack McCallum
March 02, 1987
Detroit beat Atlanta as those teams and Milwaukee slugged it out in the NBA's rugged Central Division
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March 02, 1987

They're Front And Central

Detroit beat Atlanta as those teams and Milwaukee slugged it out in the NBA's rugged Central Division

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Since then Dantley has had to pick his spots, and sometimes they're not familiar ones. He often finds himself playing on the perimeter or out in the open court facing the basket. "What this offense has done is turn a scorer into a shooter," said Dantley.

"Isiah went out of his way to accommodate Adrian in the beginning," said Laimbeer. "But since then it's been AD who has made the adjustments."

"My expectation when I came here was that they'd go to me on the blocks," said Dantley. "They did early, then stopped. My game has always been to wear my opponent down, keep going at him. I can't do that here because we don't play that style." Score a three-pointer for honesty. Most players would pretend everything is rosy while seething inside, but not AD, whose face seems to reveal a man swinging between two moods—unhappy and unhappier. It's not that bad, is it, AD?

"Well, I'm not taking the pounding I used to, and my body hasn't felt better in a long time," he said. "In Utah, I was used like Earl Campbell. Now, I'm used like Tony Dorsett. Maybe that will be good in the long run."

In Utah, he was also used as a frequent target for Frank Layden's monologues. The Jazz coach-G.M. never forgave Dantley for missing the first six games of the 1984—85 season in a contract squabble, and their relationship degenerated into a war of words that threatened to tear the team apart. Once he held out, Dantley was a trade waiting to happen, and Layden's bad-attitude label stuck to him like a long-armed defender. "It's unfortunate when one guy is able to create a false image of a player, and that image sticks," said Thomas. "That's what Layden or Lydon, whatever his name is, did to AD."

"When I got here," said Dantley, "everybody said, 'Let's see what he can do when he's not the star.' Well, I made the adjustment. I changed." Indeed, the task for the Pistons now is to tailor their game to Dantley's, to find the seams in a defense that result from the attention he draws down low. "Great teams like the Lakers and the Celtics read those double teams instantly," said Thomas. "We've got to start doing that."

How Dantley weaves his magic spell inside is one of the NBA's great mysteries. He's listed at 6'5" but appears at least an inch or two shorter. "I don't even want to know how tall he is," says Daly. Dantley's reply: "I got measured three years ago because I had a bet with somebody, and I was six-five." His face wore the hint of a smile. Was he serious? "The important thing," said Green, "is that he plays like he's seven feet."

Right now, that's what all the Pistons are doing.

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