Measuring Sticks

Spurs, Heat give Pistons fans a chance to gauge NBA title contenders

Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
Every night is a test in the NBA, every game in its own way a different challenge, and the Pistons this week get to measure themselves against two teams I would put in the NBA’s final four, as they say in college. Our great fans got to see San Antonio, with the best record in the league, play at The Palace on Tuesday night and next up at home, on Friday, come the Miami Heat. Give me those two teams, plus the Lakers from the West and the Celtics from the East, and I think the NBA champion is probably coming from that group.

That doesn’t rule out a few other teams, of course, but I was very impressed with the Spurs. I was also struck by what Gregg Popovich said after the game at The Palace. He said just because the Spurs have the NBA’s best record doesn’t mean they’re the NBA’s best them. They still have some areas they need to improve, especially on defense.

But that guy can coach with anybody. People who say maybe the Spurs don’t have quite enough players, or Tim Duncan isn’t quite what he used to be – they’re a great team. They’re the definition of a team, in many ways like the Pistons in the Goin’ to Work days when they won one championship and were minutes away from another one against those very Spurs.

The Spurs have been there, they’ve won multiple titles and I think they’ll be very difficult to beat again this postseason.

Then there’s the Lakers. I know they don’t have a very good record this season against upper-echelon teams, I know they’ve struggled. But when it comes to coaching, I wouldn’t bet against Phil Jackson having them ready come playoff time. The West is going to be very intriguing.

I know I haven’t mentioned Dallas. I guess I’m still not sure about them. Just about the time you think they’ve hit the wall and they’re on a losing streak, you look back and see they still have the second-best record in the West. It would be an insult to call them a darkhorse, but I still put them No. 3 in the West. How do you go against the defending champs and how do you go against the team with the best record in the league?

I’m excited to see Miami coming in on Friday. We’ve seen them twice at Miami, of course, but I’m excited for our fans to get a chance to see them for the first time at The Palace.

It was hard to envision what the Heat were going to be at the beginning of the year. You keep thinking they have the big three and then role players. And, yes, they do have role players, but I wouldn’t call somebody like Zydrunas Ilgauskas a role player. He doesn’t get the same amount of minutes and shots he used to, but he’s a player.

And Eddie House might have a role, but he’s not just another guy. He’s made big shots all his life and he’ll make some more. Udonis Haslem will be back and he’s probably the X factor on that team. By the time he comes back and he’s healthy and in some kind of groove, it could be almost playoff time. If you’re used to playing against Miami, you’ll have to turn the page when you play against the Heat with Udonis Haslem. He’s one of the most underrated players in the game.

Then you come to the Boston Celtics, who without the injury to Kendrick Perkins, I believe, would have won another NBA title last summer. As good as the Lakers were, even without Perkins the Celtics were ahead late in Game 7 at LA. Their big man is back, the big three don’t seem to have lost anything and Rajon Rondo is better than ever.

They have a winning mentality. Some of it comes with putting on a Celtics uniform. Some of it comes from the big three already winning a title and coming close again last year. These Celtics are going to be very tough to knock out of the playoffs.

I see two other threats in the East. You can’t go to sleep on Orlando and nobody will, but if somebody doesn’t take the Chicago Bulls as seriously as they should, they’ll be watching the rest of the playoffs. The Bulls are good and Derrick Rose, I believe, is already a superstar.

So there are some great teams out there and I’m glad we got to see the Spurs up close and personal. You try to figure out why a team is 43 and 8 – sometimes you’ve got to see them in person, not just on TV. And I was as impressed with the Spurs as I thought I would be.

Now we’ll get to see the Heat. Our fans are in for a treat. Whether you like ’em or hate ’em, they’re for real. And Erik Spoelstra has done a very good job with that team. He has a good staff – Ron Rothstein, the old Pistons assistant from Chuck Daly’s staff who took over as head coach, is one of the best – and he’s got that team in a groove. It should be a great night at The Palace.