Big Weekend Looming

Pistons can build momentum with wins over Clippers, Hornets

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will make their only visits of the season to The Palace this weekend.
Noah Graham/Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty
I know the Pistons’ record isn’t where they’d like it to be nearly one-third of the way into the season – it’s not where Joe D or the team wants it to be, either – but I think we’ve seen signs of encouragement in the last week. I’ll even go back to the Toronto game, even though that wound up heartbreaking for the fans and the players and the coaches after they lost that 25-point lead.

But all you had to do was look back to how they got that 25-point lead. I talked with Lester Conner, one of the Atlanta assistants, and he said that’s what they told their players – they told them to look at how the Pistons got that 25-point lead. That’s how dangerous the Pistons really are. Sure enough, the Pistons took their key from the Toronto game and brought their A game against Atlanta, both offensively and defensively. Despite the run the Hawks made to open the second half, they stood tall and finished.

I look at the Pistons now and I see a team with a lot of strengths and a lot of depth. To a certain degree, I think the depth has been problematic. The coaches bent over backwards to be fair to everybody and give them chance to make a contribution. But in the face of a losing streak, they did what most coaches do – shorten the rotation. Even with an eight- or nine-man rotation now, there is still strength in numbers for the Pistons.

There’s no one guy you can shut down because you can devote your defense to him and therefore shut down the Pistons. There are way too many weapons. The Atlanta game proved that. Even Greg Monroe took his turn carrying the team for a stretch of the third quarter. Looking back at the Toronto game, Big Ben got a chance to do what he can do at the offensive end.

You better be ready to guard people if you’re playing the Pistons and they’re sharing the ball and doing the things they did for half of the game against Toronto and for the full 48 against Atlanta.

Defensively, this can still be a very good basketball team. When you start with Ben Wallace, not only a great defender but a great team defender and an inspirational leader for your defense, you can defend. If you don’t, you risk the wrath of a four-time Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t think anybody wants to be out there with Ben and not at least be trying to give the kind of defensive performance Ben gives each and every night.

Bottom line, we’ve got three world championship players on this team and they all have a lot left in the tank. You start with guys who truly know how to win – and I know they get disgusted when they don’t win, but Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton are winners. They know what it takes to get to the mountaintop. And when you add the other high-quality players to the mix, I think it’s only a matter of time before the rotation gets fine-tuned and the Pistons get right back in the playoff fight in the East. That’s the beauty of the 82-game season. They’re nowhere near out of contention.

Now they just need to keep the momentum they started to build against Atlanta going into the weekend at The Palace against the Clippers and Hornets. Those are two games I’m really looking forward to seeing, not just because I’m eager to see if the Pistons can pick up where they left off against the Hawks, but because of the young stars coming to our building.

The Clippers have their own problems in terms of who to play and when to play them, but one question that’s already been answered is who’s their power forward and how much do you play him? You play him as many minutes as you can – that’s Blake Griffin. I would vote for Blake Griffin as Rookie of the Year this year and he probably would have been last year but for his season-ending injury.

He’s really tremendous. If you haven’t seen him, come out to The Palace on Friday night. The guy can jump out of the gym – he is pure power anywhere around the basket. He has a good sense of the game, a nice touch and he’s going to be a star-caliber pro for years and years. We all know that when guys have been through the grind of the NBA, season after season, for five or six years, they don’t jump as well as they did the first year. So if you want to see a guy jump over the moon, now’s a good time to see him.

He has the ability to get up in the air and come down and get right back up around the basket. That makes him a lethal rebounder, much like a great Piston of the past in Dennis Rodman. You’ll see a little bit of Dennis in Blake Griffin, but he is a very polished offensive player for his age, as well.

And if you can’t make it Friday, come on out Sunday to see New Orleans and Chris Paul. He’s one of the great point guards of our time and just a pleasure to watch. He plays a different game than most point guards. He can score any time he wants, but usually he doesn’t want to – he wants to get his teammates the ball.

If the Pistons can continue to play the way they did in certain aspects of the game against Toronto, and all the way around against Atlanta, they’ll be in great shape to make some headway in the weeks ahead.