On November 14th, nearly two weeks after the big Allen Iverson/Chauncey Billups trade, the Detroit Pistons went to the Staples Center in Los Angeles and handed the Lakers their first loss, 106-95.
Iverson scored 25 points while Rasheed Wallace scored 25 points to go along with his 13 rebounds.
That victory pushed the Pistons’ record to 7-2, and afterwards Iverson spoke about his new team’s adjustment to his arrival.
“”We didn’t feel like it would take long, but we knew it would be kind of shaky in the beginning because I’m a totally different player than Chauncey Billups,” Iverson said. “I’m a lot more aggressive when it comes to driving to the basket, so my teammates have to know what spot I want them to be in to be able to create shots for them.”
Nearly a month later, on December 9th, the Pistons went to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. to face the then 3-15 Washington Wizards, and they were defeated soundly, 107-94.
After winning the first quarter 29-14, the Pistons were outscored 93-65 the remainder of the game.
Both the mood of the team and the quotes from the coaches and players were decidedly different after this loss.
“We’re good offensively, but in the second, third and fourth quarters, we gave up way too many points,” said first year Pistons head coach Michael Curry as he dejectedly leaned against the wall clutching the stat sheet. “I just don’t like the fact that right now, we’re a team that if things aren’t going good, we sort of give in and unravel a little bit. We can’t be a team like that.”
The loss to the Wizards dropped the Pistons record to 11-9. Not only have they gone just 4-7 since that glowing win over the Lakers, but they now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being eight games out of the Eastern Conference lead and six and a half games out of first place in the Central Division behind the streaking Cleveland Cavaliers.
When Coach Curry was asked how a team just three years removed from the NBA Finals, and four years removed from winning the title, could be struggling so much, he was quick to point out the difference.
“This is a different team. We have three holdovers from that championship team, Sheed, Tay and Rip,” a slightly annoyed Curry said after the Wizards game. “So we’ve got to get better as this group that’s out there playing and we gotta’ get better defensively.”
Richard Hamilton, one of the three aforementioned holdovers from that championship team, also notices the difference in the two teams, specifically on the defensive end of the floor.
“I’m saying, a team shoots 50% against us? That’s crazy, you know? Regardless if we shot 51%, we still used to hold teams down to 40% shooting and we haven’t been doing that, and its really killing us.”
The other player who was a cog in the Pistons’ championship machine was guard Chauncey Billups. While the Pistons have struggled since he left, the Denver Nuggets have thrived with the arrival of Billups. Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Billups had led the the Nuggets to a 13-5 record since his arrival. His numbers during that run? 18.2 points and 6.9 assists a game.
During his six-year tenure with the Pistons, Billups averaged 17 points and six assists, and while those are solid numbers, they do not completely tell the story of Billups’ importance. Not only did Billups run the offense and play the role of coach-on-the-floor, but towards the end of the game, when the Pistons needed a big shot, Billups would be the one to step and do just that.
Conversely, against the Wizards, Billups’ replacement, Rodney Stuckey, who just recently was added to the starting lineup, had the ball with a little over a minute left in the fourth quarter, when the score was 96-90. The Pistons needed a basket to possibly make it a one possession game. Everyone touched the ball on the Pistons’ end, including Stuckey, who passed up a shot, and McDyess ended up trying to take a shot directly under the basket. Stuckey never even got a shot off.
Even Iverson, who was so key in that victory over the Lakers in November, is feeling the difference in not only the team, but his role individually.
When asked if he was comfortable, Iverson had trouble giving a firm answer.
“Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not, simple as that. You know anybody that watches me my whole career, and who watched me tonight, obviously you make a statement like that or ask a question like that because it don’t seem like I’m comfortable… Obviously you would say it doesn’t look like me out there, that’s not my role like it used to be. I have a totally different role here.”
Despite his frustration, Iverson made a point to say that he had not given up in the Pistons system.
“I have a totally different role here, and if it translates to success, I’m definitely happy with it. I trust my teammates and coaching staff to put me in a position to succeed.”
Shortly before tipoff last night, Antonio McDyess re-signed with the Pistons. McDyess had been traded to and then waived by the Nuggets, and he had to wait three weeks before rejoining the team.
In his pregame press conference, Coach Curry attributed part of the Pistons’ struggles to McDyess’ absence in the post on both ends of the floor.
McDyess showed signs of rust during his return to the Pistons, but he still scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and played significant minutes down the stretch. But even McDyess grasps the tall task at hand for the Pistons.
“I’m not a savior,” McDyess said. “”When we get up 15, we normally put teams away and it just ain’t happening now. I don’t know if it’s lack of confidence or lack of trust in each other. It just ain’t happening.”
The Pistons’ next chance to break out of this slump will come on Friday night at home against a young but feisty Indiana Pacers team.
The Pistons beat the Pacers on opening day, and after the game, Coach Curry uttered these words:
“We’ve earned the right for people to ask, ‘Has this team made their last run?’ We’ve earned the right [for people] to ask if we’re going to be able to get it with the few changes we’ve made,” Curry said. “We have to reassure ourselves, first and foremost.”
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