Antonio had missed virtually three years because of injuries and I think when you have the kind of staff the Pistons have medically, and especially Arnie Kander as your strength and conditioning coach, you know if anybody can get a guy on the court again, you can. Thankfully, for the Pistons’ sake and Antonio’s, it worked out so well.
When you play in 1,000 games in the NBA, you’ve made a great statement about your talent, your mental toughness and your durability. I don’t know where Dice would have been without the faith the Pistons had in him, but nobody is more deserving of that than Antonio.
He might be the most likeable player in the NBA. We have great guys sprinkled throughout the league and certainly on our team, but nobody who is better liked than Dice. Don’t forget what Ben Wallace said earlier this year when Dice was on his way into town with the Spurs to play at The Palace. He said if anybody doesn’t like Antonio McDyess, then I’ve got a problem with him. I would say it a little differently. It reminds me of the old Sara Lee commercial: Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee. I’d say everyone doesn’t like somebody, but nobody doesn’t like Antonio McDyess.
That’s why we’d all be smiling from ear to ear if he wins a championship ring this year. Playing at the level at which he’s playing in his 15th season, with all the injuries he’s had, is amazing. He didn’t get a ceremonial start against the Pistons for his 1,000th game. Gregg Popovich said that was a basketball decision. That could be the lineup you see the Spurs use into the postseason as they make a run at a fifth championship.
And I think they have a very good chance to win. The more you see of that team, with their poise and veteran stars and solid bench, you know they have a legitimate chance to win it all.
More often than not, you win championships with great veterans. Tim Duncan is an all-time great and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are NBA All-Stars who know how to take the ball and run with it. When they’re the only one of the big three on the court, they know it’s their job to control the ball and make plays. They did that to the Pistons last night. If Tony Parker doesn’t make that late killer 3-pointer, the Pistons would have had a real chance to come back and win that game.
Now if you turn the page to the next stop on our trip, here in Oklahoma City, you see how great young players can help a team come out of nowhere and make waves like the Thunder did last year when they pushed the Lakers to the brink as the eighth seed in the West.
They now look like a team that will have home-court advantage in round one. They’re a team that starts, of course, with Kevin Durant. His ability to score and score when it counts – it’s a lot easier to score in the first three quarters than it is in the fourth – can win games for you down the stretch. Kevin Durant, as evidenced by his play in Philadelphia last night, when he scored the game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime, is one of those special kind of scorers.
Then you have Russell Westbrook, who has matured into a truly solid NBA point guard from a young guy who had incredible ability and strength and quickness and has found a way to harness it all. You always had to be impressed with the way he could score and rebound for a point guard, plus pass the ball, but there was always that turnover column you had to pay attention to. Those days are in the rear-view mirror. He’s a player. The greatest compliment you can give to him is you can win a championship with Russell Westbrook as your point guard.
And you can tell that the Thunder front office is thinking championship now. You don’t make a trade for a big man like Kendrick Perkins and then sign him to a contract extension if you’re not serious. As much as I like to watch Perkins, I’m just as glad for the Pistons’ sake that he’s not playing tomorrow night. When he gets back on the court in a couple of weeks, the Thunder will be ready to prove they can play with anybody.
Now – can they win a seven-game series against a great team? I guess we’ll find out.