Conventional wisdom says there are five elite teams in the NBA right now – the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic.
How often would teams would beat one of those five without its top two scorers from last season?
- The Wizards without Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler?
- The Heat without Dwyane Wade and Michael Beasley?
- The Hawks without Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby?
- The Trail Blazers without Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldrige?
- The Nuggets without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups?
- The Jazz without Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams?
- The Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry?
I don’t think so.
But that’s exactly what the Pistons did in an 85-80 win over Orlando last night. Detroit was so impressive, I nearly forgot Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were out with injuries.
Sure, the Magic didn’t have Rashard Lewis, who was suspended for the first 10 games of the season. But they won their first three games by an average of 11 points. And they still had Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson.
Something to prove
This game showed Detroit is better than it was last year.
I don’t want to make that seem more meaningful than it is. The Pistons won 39 games last year. They were below average. Improvement from that isn’t an earth-shattering feat.
But so many doubted Detroit. In our TrueHoop Network wins projections, 22-of-26 voters didn’t think the Pistons would win more games than they did last season.
Last night’s win over the Magic wasn’t remarkable because several Pistons had good games. It was impressive because they’d already been playing well, and they proved they could against good teams, too.
- Ben Gordon has scored at least 22 points and had a true shooting percentage of at least 52.2 in each game this year. He scored 23 points in 43 minutes for the short-handed Pistons last night.
- Ben Wallace has played solid defense and grabbed at least nine rebounds in every game this year. His tough one-on-one defense of Dwight Howard early helped frustrate the Magic’s star, who eventually fouled out.
- Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum are still young, and they both look better than they did last year. They’ve stepped up at key times. With Hamilton and Prince out, they combined with Gordon to score 63 of Detroit’s 85 points.
- Rookie Jonas Jerebko went 0-for-5 shooting, but he played solid defense on Vince Carter. Carter took a ton of contested jumpers early that really killed Orlando’s offensive rhythm.
That’s a big chuck of production that wasn’t there last year.
This game wasn’t perfect for the Pistons – far from it. But most of their problems have to do with ironing out the kinks that come with having eight new players and a new coach.
The Pistons aren’t title contenders. They’re going to lose plenty of games this year and look really bad at times. They’re a long shot to win a playoff series.
But let’s give them a little credit. They’re better than last season.