Beard: First-place Pistons look like they might be for real

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
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The Detroit Pistons' Avery Bradley shoots against the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry on Sunday night.

Oakland, Calif. — Many Detroit Pistons fans woke up Monday morning to an oddity: their team sitting atop the Eastern Conference with the best record.

Sure, it’s a small sample size, but there’s reason for optimism after the Pistons’ improbable back-to-back road wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors — erasing seven-year droughts at both buildings.

The Pistons (5-2) are through the hardest two games on their three-game trip west and have the two best wins of any team in the NBA — except for maybe the Memphis Grizzlies (5-1), who have beaten the Houston Rockets at home and on the road, and the Warriors at home.

“It’s two games versus two very good teams; the morale in the locker room is great right now,” said Tobias Harris, who had 16 points in beating the Warriors. “We’re embracing each other and enjoying it and having fun. That’s the biggest thing: we’re having fun as a team.”

After beating the defending champions, there were smiles in the locker room, and the Pistons now roll into the Staples Center on Tuesday to face the Lakers with a quiet confidence they haven’t had in a while.

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Following a disappointing finish last season, the Pistons are playing with a team concept of motion offense and ball movement that gives different players a chance to shine every night. In their seven games they’ve had four different leading scorers and have had an array of players making contributions off the bench.

That’s a throwback to the “Goin’ to Work” era — and with two big wins fresh in their minds, they’re not worried about teams overlooking them. They’re more concerned with jelling and solidifying their bonds as a team. Many players point to that new camaraderie and commitment to improving.

“I don’t care if they sleep on us; that’s cool. So what?” said Reggie Jackson, who is making his own statement, posting 16.1 points and 6.1 assists. “We’re coming out here to be better than the day before and that’s what the team is taking on. We couldn’t care less if people sleep on us.”

Even coach Stan Van Gundy, who has taken some heat for this group’s underachieving last season, is taking the wins in stride, know that one bad loss can take the air out of the weekend’s momentum. They’ll send just as big a message if they’re able to finish the trip with a win over the Lakers.

That’s what consistent teams do — and before this team can be considered even good, they’ll have to learn how to build good wins without stumbling along the way.

“Yeah, it’s great, but look — I’m not downplaying it — these two wins are great,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really proud of them but it truly is two (games) of 82. We’re seven games into an 82-game season, with 75 to go.

“You can be really happy and should be tonight. These guys should be very, very happy tonight and then tomorrow you’ve got to get yourself ready to play again because it’s a whole other deal.”

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he Pistons’ outlook doesn’t change overnight. They still played a poor game against the two-win Philadelphia 76ers and they’ve been in double-digit deficits almost every game. But that means they’ve also fought back to have a chance in the fourth quarters.

They’ve beaten elite teams on the road, which hasn’t been one of the Pistons’ hallmarks in recent years. This group seems different, at least through the first seven games.

Time will tell.

Conventional wisdom says fans will come out to watch a winner — and that’ll be tested this weekend, when the Pistons return to Little Caesars Arena to face the surging Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings. While there have been questions about their home attendance, if this streak continues, fans won’t have an excuse to stay away.


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