When I was playing, a common line was, and still is, "It's early but "
Detroit needs some doctoring
And we all know we have to avoid letting that "but" get too big.
This now seems to ring particularly true for the Detroit Pistons, who on Wednesday lost to the visiting New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets 100-99, falling to 3-5 on the season. Last season the Pistons started 8-0 and were almost invincible on their home court.
You can say, "but they lost Ben Wallace, and the rules have changed in the last two years" and then forget how this team became a champion in the first place: getting defensive stops.
Not much of that happened at the Palace of Auburn Hills Wednesday. Look at the final play of this game: Hornets rookie Hilton Armstrong, having just made the go-ahead free throw with his 17th career NBA point (all scored in one night), crashed the boards and swatted the ball free on the rebound of his second free throw.
Ben would have grabbed that board. Surrendering offensive rebounds killed the Pistons in this game, a 19-8 advantage for the Hornets. On a night like this, one would think having Wallace, now the man in the middle in Chicago, would have helped them.
But it's more than just his absence that looks different about Detroit.
The changes in Detroit's approach were noticeable last year, with the rule changes that favored speed over size, and the arrival of offensive-minded Flip Saunders. Even before Wallace left, that defensive identity wasn't as strong as it was when Larry Brown was there.
The Pistons are looking indecisive defensively. When you're indecisive, that can be the difference between winning and losing -- that half-second of indecision in the NBA allows hungry players like Brandon Bass and Armstrong (subbing for the injured Tyson Chandler and David West) to have a big impact in a game.
I can't put all these changes on coaching styles. The NBA's overall move toward smaller lineups means more Rasheed Wallace at the five, Tayshaun Prince at the four and a team more spread out on D. When Detroit dominated, it went big. But now you can't play the big lineup the whole game. And Rasheed isn't used to being the center on defense.
So, how does Detroit adjust? In the short term, the Pistons need to try to emphasize defensive rebounding -- that's going to allow them to get out on the break and get those easy baskets.
The Detroit mind-set used to be about getting stops. The Pistons will need to get more rebounding from their smalls to make up for the loss of rebounding with Ben.
One thing you see is some of the better teams in the East, like the Cavaliers and Heat, stumble against teams they should beat on paper. It also shows what I see as increasing parity in the league.
Early on, the better teams can look ahead to where they're going to be at the end of the season. This can be dangerous, because every game is important. Especially in trying to get home court in the playoffs.
It's like if you're jogging and you look in the distance, you trip over something right in front of you.
Detroit probably will still be one of the best teams in the East because of its experience and its greatness at multiple positions. However, like many other teams, the Pistons have to avoid looking too far ahead.
ESPN analyst Allan Houston played the first three of his 12 NBA seasons in Detroit before retiring in 2005.
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Pacers president Larry Bird earned a warm welcome in Boston, but his team was swatted, 114-88, falling to 4-4 this season.
The most interesting data, however, come when the ball gets a little closer to the rim. Let's start from the foul line, where the league has improved from 73.3 percent to 74.5 percent. This is an impressive jump considering the league leader in free-throw attempts, LeBron James, has been notably inaccurate from the stripe.
(And if you're thinking this has something to do with Shaq being out of the lineup, think again -- he barely played last November before spraining his ankle.)
This is the most compelling evidence to date that the ball does tend to offer a kinder bounce to shooters. That said, let's be realistic about the scope of the difference: We're talking about one free throw out of 100.
The closest thing to a major ballot snubee is Sacramento's Kevin Martin, who has quickly established his credentials by averaging a tidy 23.8 points in the Kings' first six games but whose absence doesn't exactly rise to the level of injustice. Kings teammate Mike Bibby, remember, is still waiting for his first All-Star selection from the fans or the coaches. So it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that Martin, no matter how hot he stays, has been denied thousands of votes.
Martin certainly deserves one of the West's 24 guard spots over, say, Portland's Juan Dixon. You can likewise, if you're so inclined, scour further and question the absence of Atlanta's Josh Smith, Charlotte's Brevin Knight and New York's Quentin Richardson in the East, with Richardson's case especially strong given that five Knicks were placed on the ballot ahead of him -- including Channing Frye -- while Richardson leads the team in scoring.
Charlotte (2-6), which had lost four straight, earned its first victory over the Spurs as the Bobcats after four previous tries. The final: 95-92 in OT.
Charlotte wins in San Antonio
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Cavs guard Larry Hughes bruised his right leg on this play during a 100-87 win over Portland. The injury was not considered to be serious.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
REELING IN YEARS: As I sat and watched the Nuggets and Magic warm up while glancing at the game notes, I was struck by this thought: unless Denver makes it to the conference finals, Carmelo Anthony will have played the entire season as a 22-year-old. He has been such a part of hoops culture for so long now that we forget how young he is.
I imagine I'll be thinking similar thoughts when Cleveland makes a trip down here. To put it all into perspective, when Grant Hill was 22 his Duke team edged Florida then lost to Arkansas in the 1994 Final Four. Do you even remember those games? 'Melo likely does not -- he was only 9. -- David Thorpe in Orlando
SOUTH DAKOTA PRIDE: Anyone who thinks that guys who are pure shooters typically can't do anything else has never watched Mike Miller play. He gives everything he's got every minute he's on the floor. -- Thorpe
EARL'S COURT: The next time you feel that the odds are stacked against you and there's no reason to try, just remember this: Earl Boykins, all 5-5 and 130 pounds of him, is an NBA player. What were the odds on that? Seeing him in person is almost a surreal experience. -- Thorpe
SWEET SPANISH CHOCOLATE: Blazers point guard Sergio Rodriguez got some more run on Wednesday. Hombre is quick. The run, the pass, the shot everything is super speedy. He's a unique player. Fun to watch. So far this season he has 16 assists/2 turnovers in 39 minutes of play. -- Chris Ramsay
RAISE THE TITANIC: Things looked bad for the Atlantic Division, which entered the night with a collective 11-23 record. But lo and behold, a four-game sweep by Nets, Knicks, Celtics and Sixers means that, for a night anyway, not every Titanic team is at sea level or below. -- Royce Webb
But after Monday's game, Cavs guard Damon Jones told me he wasn't trying to impress Spike Lee, David Wright, Plaxico Burress and the rest of the celebrities in the stands. He said his target was the NBA office, which is located in Manhattan.
"Man, I'm trying to get into the 3-point shootout at the All-Star Game," said Jones, who did his damage (29 points, 7-for-10 3-pointers) in just 28 minutes. "I hope the NBA office was watching."
Jones, the self-proclaimed "best shooter on the planet," can't believe he's never been invited to compete for the long-distance crown.
As a Kenyon Martin fan, I fully acknowledge that his stock has dropped precipitously after two mostly disappointing seasons in Denver. I don't deny that he crossed a line in that playoff bust-up with Nuggets coach George Karl. Yet no matter what you think of Martin, you first have to concede that his hunger to play is how this all began to unravel.
You rarely hear that part of the story.