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Published: Friday, 1/27/2006

For several reasons, Pistons' feat is better

Comparing basketball and baseball is like comparing slam dunks to home runs, but 40 games into the NBA schedule means the Pistons are just about halfway through the 82-game regular season.

The Pistons have already sustained their level of excellence longer than the Tigers, who had completed only about 25 percent of their schedule after 40 games and went 69-53 the rest of the way to finish 104-58.

The biggest difference right now between the Pistons and Tigers is that the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, while the Pistons have yet to complete their season. Working in the Pistons' favor is the fact that their 35-5 start is one of the six best in NBA history, and each of the five previous teams went on to win the title.

Another reason why the Pistons' early dominance is more impressive than their baseball counterparts' is that major league teams weren't gunning for the Tigers like NBA teams are gunning for the Pistons.

The Tigers were 92-70 in 1983, but they hadn't appeared in a World Series since 1968. Beating the Tigers in '84 didn't hold quite the same appeal as beating these Pistons, who won an NBA title two years ago and lost to San Antonio in last year's finals.

Every game, every team tries to make its reputation with a win over the Pistons.

Thirty games over .500, the Pistons currently have a 12-game lead over Cleveland in the Central Division. The Pistons have 10 more wins than Miami, the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Defending champion San Antonio, with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, is the only team in the same stratosphere with the Pistons. Even so, the Pistons have already swept the season series against San Antonio, winning both games by 15 points, holding the Spurs to an average of 69 points and keeping them under 20 points in five of the eight quarters.

Having just passed sublime, these Pistons are great, bordering on ridiculous.

OK, how dominant are they?

They give themselves a chance to win every game.

They've had an eight-game winning streak to open the season, a six-game winning streak to close out November, a nine-game winning streak in December and their current nine-game streak.

Dr. James Naismith's invention doesn't get any better than how the Pistons are playing it right now.

Twenty of the Pistons' 35 wins have been by double figures. Included are eight wins of 20 or more points and one 30-point victory. Eight wins have been by five points or more. Seven wins have been by four points or less.

This Pistons' season should be stored in a time capsule so that people 100 years from now have the opportunity to witness one of the best starts anywhere in the history of team sports.

Based on the last few seasons, hasn't the rest of the NBA caught on to what the Pistons are doing?

Well, yes and no.

The rest of the league knows what the Pistons are doing. It's not about "figuring it out." What makes the Pistons nearly unbeatable is that other teams know what they're doing, but superior execution allows the Pistons to still do it.

The collection of players put together by team president and former Piston star Joe Dumars can be compared to the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that went an all-time best 72-10.

The Pistons aren't filled with one-on-one stars, but they are redefining pro basketball as we know it.

It's truly impressive what Dumars has done.

He has built as good an NBA team as you can build in this era.

In Ben Wallace, the Pistons have the best defender and one of the most ferocious rebounders in basketball.

In Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons have one of the league's most versatile big men.

In Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons have someone who can put it on the floor, drain 3-pointers, rebound and play lock-down defense.

In Richard Hamilton, the Pistons have a perpetual-motion scoring machine who has six games of 30 or more points and one 40-point game this season.

Chauncey Billups is arguably the league's top point guard and the Pistons' most talented player. He's having an MVP-caliber season.

And how about the sparks the Pistons receive off the bench from former All-Star Antonio McDyess, Carlos Arroyo, Carlos Delfino and newcomer Maurice Evans?

This isn't some basketball miracle. The Pistons aren't a fluke.

Forget whether or not the Pistons' 35-5 start is better than the Tigers'. This is bigger than that.

The Pistons' pursuit of Chicago's all-time record of 72-10 has become a national story, and if the Pistons keep it up, it will become a national reality as well.



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