Dengate’s Double Drivel: Nov. 27, 2006
By Jeff Dengate
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HOW DALLAS (AND DETROIT) GOT ITS GROOVE BACK

Secaucus, NJ, Nov. 27, 2006 – How does a team rebound after a disheartening loss in The Finals?

Well, if you’re the Detroit Pistons of a year ago, you come out of the gates on fire, the season seeming a mere formality to set up a third straight trip to the championship round.

If you’re this year’s Dallas Mavericks, you open the season, well, like you still hadn’t taken your Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, nor made the first step in getting your life back on track.

Sure, the Pistons played their part flawlessly for much of the regular season before ultimately falling short of their goal, but in a short week or two this season you realized that somehow the real Mavs are more like the team you’re seeing at this moment and less like that 0-4 stinker that opened the season.

Detroit, perhaps feeling uninspired from its own playoff run, started the season slowly, like Dallas.

A possible explanation could be that both teams were still working new bodies into their system. While much of the acclimation takes place during the preseason, there is still some on-the-job training to be had for the Mavericks’ seven new additions, including rotation players Greg Buckner, Austin Croshere and Anthony Johnson. Detroit worked in new starting center Nazr Mohammed and top sub Flip Murray.

The work still isn’t done for Dallas, as the team is still trying to find a way to get time for Croshere, who didn’t log a minute in the first four wins of the season. Devean George missed the team’s first three contests because of a stomach illness and has missed the last four because of a strained right knee.

Detroit has no problem finding time for its newest players, but keeping Mohammed on the floor is still a concern; He has fouled out of two contests and is averaging 3.5 fouls in only 20.0 minutes per game.

When Mohammed is on the court, he still isn’t filling the void at center, where Ben Wallace no longer reigns supreme. But, with the other four starters in place the team can still clamp down on opponents by going man-to-man and it has shown flashes of zone this season, as well, as the team is holding opponents to only 96 points per game. The Pistons, however, no longer control the glass, and are being out-boarded by opponents for a second straight season.

On the offensive end, the Pistons are finding their groove, though, which should come as little surprise given Flip Saunders is prowling the sidelines. During the team’s current six-game win streak, it registered 100-plus points in five games and poured in 62 first-half points vs. the Washington Wizards on Saturday.

Dallas, meanwhile, had little D to speak of in its 0-4 start, giving up triple-digit points in three of those contests; The Spurs were limited to 97 in the season opener. Since that skid, only the Suns and Grizzlies have hit the century mark.

A major contributor to the team’s success has been Erick Dampier, who’s provided solid post play of late. The numbers tell the story: Fourteen points, 13 boards – six offensive – and three blocks in a win over Chicago. Three nights later, 22 and 15, with nine offensive rebounds. Another three nights, another 15 caroms at Charlotte. That stands in stark contrast to the first four games of the season when Damp averaged a mere six boards and .75 blocks.

But, can Dampier continue to get in done in Big D and will Detroit and Dallas keep pace with the league’s elite teams? Well, who knows? and most likely, in that order.

Friday night in San Antonio, the Mavericks had every chance to give up the game and streak to their in-state rivals, having coughed up a 17 point lead. But Dirk, who tallied 14 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter, and the Mavs survived a double-digit fourth quarter by Tim Duncan, which included three freebie makes in the closing seconds to preserve the road win.

Until that game, the Mavs had been getting the job done without Josh Howard, who returned from a sprained ankle to post 12 points vs. the Spurs. Howard added 15 and seven rebounds a night later against the Hornets.

So, yes, the Mavericks should continue to ascend the ranks out West and figure to be as difficult a matchup as they were a year ago.

Detroit’s opponents weren’t on the same level as, say, the Spurs – the week included wins over the Sixers, Hawks and Bobcats – but the team played four games in five days, with the only break coming for Thanksgiving Day. Despite any tired legs, the Pistons got a lift from reserve Carlos Delfino to down a pesky Bobcats squad and then Chauncey Billups knocked down nine of 10 free throws late to hold off the Wizards, who swept the season series with Detroit last year.

So, while it’s still too early to pencil either in as finalists in their respective conferences, the recent win streaks have situated them among the top teams in their divisions headed into the second month of the season.

That sure beats the blues the teams were singing two short weeks ago.