Friday, February 27, 2009
WHOA, WHAT A RELIEF
The Pistons' game at Orlando Friday was a 'You had me at hello' experience. Right from the opening possession, when Tayshaun Prince went right at Dwight Howard and converted a three-point play, I felt they were going to win and snap the eight-game losing streak. Even when they were down eight at halftime, I felt they were playing with energy and passion.
You can't blame Allen Iverson for getting traded to Detroit but the Pistons sure played better without him. Iverson has a bad back and missed the game but Michael Curry had already decided to bench him and give Richard Hamilton his old starting job back. Hamilton responded wtih 31 points. Sure looked like the ol' Pistons for a night but how will things flow when Iverson returns? That's the big question.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
SHEED CAN PLAY - FOR NOW
The league office told the Pistons Thursday morning that two of Rasheed Wallace's technicals this season had been rescinded. That drops Wallace's total to 14, making him eligible to play Friday at Orlando. When Wallace got kicked out of Wednesday's game, he seemingly had reached the season limit of 16, which results in an automatic one-game suspension.
However, Wallace's towel-throwing incident - he tossed one into the stands and another toward official Bill Kennedy in New Orleans - is still under review. He will be fined and could face a suspension for that blowup.
It just keeps getting worse for the Pistons.
Rasheed Wallace will be suspended for Friday's game against Orlando for reaching the league's season limit on technicals. That means Kwame Brown will get extended minutes against the NBA's best center, Dwight Howard, as the Pistons try to halt their slide at eight games. Let's just say I don't like their chances.
A bigger issue involves Richard Hamilton. With the team reeling, Hamilton says he wants his starting job back. If Michael Curry doesn't have enough headaches, he now faces the dilemma of either angering Rip by leaving him on the bench or asking Allen Iverson to take the bullet and come off the bench. Curry may be able to delay his decision temporarily because Iverson has a bad back and may not play this weekend.
Monday, February 23, 2009
MAILING IT IN
The Pistons' loss to Cleveland Sunday night was beyond embarrassing. It was downright disgraceful.
The effort was lacking, the execution was putrid. Their poor defensive rotation left shooters wide open on the perimeter and there was no ball movement on offense.
Most of all, their body language spoke of a team that had already given up on the season. Slumped shoulders, blank looks, no hustle plays, it was all there on display before a national television audience.
I feel bad for Antonio McDyess, who thought he was coming back to a contender when he gave up $9 million to resign with the club. Otherwise, the Pistons are getting what they deserve.
I've finally come around to the notion that the Pistons would be better off not making the playoffs. They need all the pieces they can get to rebuild this club. A lottery pick is also a lot more easier to trade in a larger package. And who knows, they could get real lucky like the Bulls did last June and wind up with a top three selection. At this point, the only positive developments with the Pistons are going to come after the season.
Friday, February 20, 2009
WATCH OUT BELOW
The Pistons' slide could take on avalanche proportions during their five-game road trip.
They head out of town with a five-game losing streak and now have to play Cleveland, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando and Boston. See any wins on that list? Not to mention that the first home game after that stretch is Chauncey Billups' return to The Palace with his division-leading Denver Nuggets.
Right now, the Pistons have one player who brings it every night and can be counted on for production - Antonio McDyess. When the Pistons were down one in the final minute against San Antonio Thursday, I told my elbow mates at press row that they should run a play for McDyess. Instead, the ball went to Rasheed Wallace, who last hit a big shot - well, you tell me. Maybe the 60-foot heave against Denver two years ago? Wallace faded away for no particular reason and missed a 17-footer.
The biggest culprit in this meltdown, though, has to be Rodney Stuckey. When the Pistons moved 10 games above .500 last month, Stuckey was playing like Deron Williams. Now, he's playing like Kevin Ollie. Stuckey has scored five points the last two games. He's so discombobulated, he's not even trying to attack anymore. And in three of the last five games, he's recorded exactly one assist.
Stuckey, who missed the first two months of last season with a hand injury, has hit a rookie wall a year late. If he doesn't find a second wind real soon, the Pistons will be going home in April.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
SUMMER - TIME TO POUNCE
The Pistons will use their valuable salary-cap space - at least $20 million this summer - before LeBron, Dwyane and Bosh become free agents in 2010. Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars went on the record with that statement after not making any deals before Thursday's trade deadline.
Given the fact we have to play a season next year, Dumars said Thursday night prior the team's game against San Antonio, I think I need to use that money. I think were going to tip it off next year, so I better put a hell of a team on the floor. You cant wait. You cant sit here and say were going to wait two years down the road and hope we get somebody. We have no idea what could happen (in 2010).
Dumars didn't come close to making a deal, in part because he told teams he wouldn't take on any salary and give up any of that cap space.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
WHO'S GOING TO SCORE?
The biggest concern with the latest Pistons lineup change is bench scoring.
Richard Hamilton has settled in nicely to his sixth-man role but with Antonio McDyess moving to the starting lineup - a change Michael Curry announced after the All-Star break - there are no other natural scorers in reserve.
The other main reserves now are Amir Johnson - who lost his starting job - Jason Maxiell and Arron Afflalo. The Pistons are going to need to play more uptempo with that second unit, try to force turnovers and manufacture points. You're not going to run pick and rolls to free up Maxiell or Johnson, so Curry will have to do something to make sure defenses don't overload on Rip.
By the way, McDyess has handled the latest switch like a pro, as always, even though he'd prefer to be a key reserve at this stage of his career.
"I know we've been struggling this year and he came to me and asked me, 'Would I start?'" McDyess said of Curry. "I told him, 'Yeah, whatever it takes.' I know it's already been tough this year. I don't want to make it more complicated than it already is, so it was easy for me to tell him yes."
Thursday, February 12, 2009
RIDING OUT THE STORM
Most Pistons fans pinpoint the Allen Iverson trade as the beginning of the downfall. The team has a 23-24 record since AI began suiting up, including a 5-12 record in the last 17 games heading into the All-Star break.
To paraphrase an old Rick Pitino line, Chauncey Billups isn't walking through that door. Flip Saunders isn't walking through that door. And I seriously doubt Amare Stoudemire will, either.
The best assets the Pistons have to rejoin the elite members of the Eastern Conference are the expiring contracts of Iverson and Rasheed Wallace. Stoudemire is one of the few players Joe Dumars would trade one of those expiring contracts for prior to the Feb. 19 deadline. But other teams have expiring contracts, too, plus better draft picks and/or talented young players. Face it, the only star-quality young player the Pistons have is Rodney Stuckey and it would be counterproductive to deal him. The Pistons don't have any additional first-round picks to dangle, contrary to some media reports. The most recent first-rounder they acquire was in the Darko Milicic deal with Orlando and they used that pick on Stuckey.
As for the coaching situation, I would be very surprised if Dumars gave up on Michael Curry this quickly. Dumars groomed Curry for the job; Curry is dealing with criticism, boos and harsh assessments from outsiders for the first time. Dumars is going to give Curry the chance to learn from this experience. Making top assistant Darrell Walker an interim coach isn't going to make the Pistons better than Boston or Cleveland, so why bother?
Chemistry issues aside, there's no excuse for a team with this much talent and experience to wallow in mediocrity. Unless Phoenix takes the Pistons' offer for Stoudemire or another sweet deal suddenly materializes, the onus will be on the current group of Pistons and their rookie coach to prevent a complete meltdown.
Monday, February 9, 2009
TIME TO GET BUSY
With everything that's been going on this season, it might surprise some people the Pistons have actually played a light schedule.
Even after their weekend back-to-back against Milwaukee and Phoenix, the Pistons have played just 49 games. Only New Orleans has played fewer games (48). Boston and Milwaukee, in contrast, have already completed a league-high 53.
What does this mean? The Pistons won't get many breathers in the schedule after the All-Star break this weekend. They've got a particularly brutal stretch at the end of this month - a crazy-quilt five-game road trip that includes stops in Cleveland, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando and Boston.
From that point, they play four games a week with one exception (a three-game week) until the last week of the regular season. Michael Curry must monitor the minutes of Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince, so that they'll have something left in the tank for the playoffs.
And please don't say, 'If they make the playoffs.' They've still go the fifth-best record in the East. The current eighth seed, New Jersey, is four games below .500. The Pistons, tough schedule or not, are not going to slide that much.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Give Orlando plenty of credit for playing above its heads this season. In virtually any other season, the Magic would be a lock for the conference finals.
Not this year. It's hard to imagine any other outcome than a Cleveland-Boston matchup, with a trip to the Finals on the line. After seeing both clubs this weekend, I give the slight edge to the Cavs.
Boston's defense is terrific, as is its offensive execution. Winning the championship last season didn't take away any of its hunger. In fact, it may have made the Celtics even more determined to prove they weren't one-hit wonders.
Watching LeBron now, bigger and stronger than ever, I just don't see how any team is going to stop him in a best-of-seven format. He's become a complete player now with his dedication to defense. There was nothing surprising about his 33 points or eight assists Sunday against the reeling Pistons. But seeing him guard Rodney Stuckey and holding the Pistons' future All-Star point guard to six points was a revelation.
Cleveland's depth is also slightly better. The Pistons were outscored 24-6 when LeBron rested, in part because the Cavs have the always-dangerous Daniel Gibson coming off the bench. And Anderson Varejao is a better player than any of Boston's reserve bigs.
LeBron's going to win his share of titles over the course of his career. The year 2009 will probably be remembered as his breakthrough season.