When deep playoff runs were a matter of routine for the Pistons not that long ago, The Palace ranked right up there with the best home-court advantages in the NBA. Those two things weren't unrelated, of course. Good teams win more often than not, no matter where they're playing, and fans follow winners.
Basketball interest among Pistons fans might have been dormant for the past few years, but it wasn't very far beneath the surface. The seven-game winning streak proved that. When the Pistons came back from their Texas sweep of San Antonio and Dallas, the largest crowd (18,859) since the season opener awaited them for a showdown between the two hottest teams in the league, the Pistons' seven-game win streak one better than Atlanta's six-gamer.
The Hawks won on Friday, leading by 23 points in the second quarter before the Pistons closed with a rush and had a chance to force overtime at the buzzer. Had it made it to OT, it still would have been a full house, a fact Stan Van Gundy noted and appreciated.
"I thought it was great," he said, "because the way we played in the first half, they could have very well just given up on us. I thought they tried to push us forward there at the end of the game and give us some life. It was nice to hear and I think it helped our guys."
The loss to Atlanta might have cooled off the Pistons, but it didn't break the Pistons fever spreading among their fan base. Twenty-four hours later, an even bigger crowd – 19,301 – showed up to see the Pistons launch a new winning streak by beating Brooklyn 98-93.
"It's fun, man," said Jonas Jerebko, elder statesman in terms of Pistons service at five-plus years. "It's fun back at The Palace. I've seen it a few times, but it's fun seeing it two days in a row. The city is really coming behind us. We're trying to show them a good product that's easy to sell. I think it's pretty fun to watch us play right now."
"With us going on that win streak and playing hard, I think it just brings the fans," Brandon Jennings said after his 20 points and 11 assists helped the Pistons pull away from the Nets. "It's a blue-collar state, so they enjoy hard work."
The Pistons knew winning Saturday after their Friday loss was important on many levels. They didn't want to string consecutive losses together and cede some of the momentum they'd generated since their winning streak began on Dec. 26, but they also know that they have much ground to make up in the standings if they're to realize their preseason goal of making the playoffs – talk Van Gundy avoids but his players have embraced.
And they also know they have to establish The Palace as a tough home court again. Though 8-10 on the road, where they've won five straight games, the Pistons were just 4-14 at home before knocking off Brooklyn.
"We need to win at home more than we have been," Kyle Singler said. "Just in general, we have got to play with the type of confidence at home, play with a little bit of an edge."
Jennings got a taste of what an enthusiastic home crowd means over the weekend and is anticipating how tough Pistons fans can make it on visitors over the second half of the season.
"Especially with the help of the fans, it's definitely going to be tough when we get into those stretches where the games get close and the fans get loud," he said. "Just the whole atmosphere, it gets us going."
"It definitely feels good," said Greg Monroe, second to Jerebko in years of service with the Pistons at four-plus. "We always are grateful for the fan support, so it's definitely good to be in a pretty much packed house and to get the win."