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Published: Wednesday, 3/29/2006

Pistons should refocus

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - You can mistakenly call the Detroit Pistons, 97-90 winners over the Dallas Mavericks last night at the Palace, a great team gone good.

Or you can simply call the Pistons a team in search of itself.

No, the Pistons aren't in trouble. That would be like calling Bill Gates destitute after a couple of bad investments.

But it's becoming clear the Pistons won't cakewalk to the NBA Finals for a third straight year.

The Pistons improved to a league-best 56-14 in exciting fashion to open a new home winning streak. Their 16-game Palace streak ended Sunday against New Jersey.

The Pistons have exceptional size, length, athleticism, skill and desire. Their success is well-deserved.

Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace form the best starting lineup in the league, and one of the best in NBA history.

But too much of anything can make you sick.

Maybe the Pistons have been a little too full of themselves. They've developed a pattern of playing like they believe they can pull back and turn it on at will. They can't.

Since the All-Star break, we've been treated to a surprising lack of Pistons' focus and an inability to dominate.

After going 37-5 to open the season, the Pistons are "only" 14-5 since the All-Star break.

Sort of like noticing a speck of lint on the Mona Lisa. It's distracting, but nothing permanent.

If the Pistons were playing their best basketball and displaying a dropoff in performance, that might be cause for concern. That hasn't been the case. It's simply been a matter of the Pistons being slightly off their game.

Last night the Pistons addressed some of those areas of concern. They spent less time hanging out around the 3-point arc, and more time attacking the basket.

"We finally got back to the way we play. We moved the ball inside-out," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "We got more inside baskets."

During their fourth-quarter rally, the Pistons received 10 points from Billups and eight points from Rasheed Wallace, displaying perfect offensive harmony.

In terms of confidence, Billups is blessed with an overabundance.

He can struggle with his shot all game, but when the game is on the line, his shot is money.

Billups' clutch 3-pointer gave the Pistons a 92-88 lead with 2:43 to play. His jumper over 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki at the 45.3 mark iced the victory.

"He put some daggers on us, made some big shots," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said of Billups, who scored a game-high 31 points. "He played strong down the stretch and that definitely hurt us."

Detroit's matchup with Dallas may have been a preview of this year's finals. The Pistons have the best record in the league. Over in the Western Conference, Dallas (54-17) has been every bit as good as defending champion San Antonio.

"After the game, I told Avery I'd like to do this seven more times in about three months [in the finals]," Saunders said.

The most interesting development on the court last night, and something worth remembering, is how quickly the Pistons go from good to great when they put it all together.

Contact Blade columnist

John Harris at:


or 419-724-6354.

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