I'm writing this flying back on Roundball One, reflecting on a week-long trip with America's most celebrated sports road show. For reasons I can't explain, time feels so extended on the road. One day feels like three and a week feels like month. Although it's a privilege to travel with the world's best basketball team, we're all ready to get back to our own beds and our families. I can’t even wait to walk the dog again.
I last wrote to you on Tuesday from Cleveland after the Pistons swept back-to-back games with the Cavaliers. We arrived in Denver later that day and I soon realized that Western Conference teams view the Pistons differently. Whereas Cleveland sees the Pistons as a direct rival and an ongoing roadblock to their success, western opponents look at the Pistons moreso as a celebrated guest. On Wednesday, a columnist in the Denver Post asked fans to give Chauncey Billups a standing ovation that night for all the good deeds the Denver native has performed in his hometown.
Before the game that night, Nuggets coach George Karl said, "They're a basketball team, not an ESPN team," in praise of the Pistons pure and ego less approach to the game.
You just don't feel love for the Pistons like that over in the east.
Friday in Seattle, coach Bob Hill said, "They've gotta be one of the ten best teams ever, don't they?" And in LA on Saturday, the headline in the LA Times read, "Team Come True," lauding the Pistons as a group of oft-traded and released players who found commonality and success in Joe Dumars grand scheme.
A recurring theme in each of these cities was deep concern about how the season would play out for the home team. Cleveland was worried about another free fall that cost them the playoffs on the last day last year.
Denver had come off a humiliating home court blowout loss to Milwaukee. Kenyon Martin said, "If we play like that against the Pistons, we'll lose by 50." The Nuggets then played their best game of the season and held off the Pistons down the stretch. It was a tremendously entertaining game with the Nuggets making nine alley-oop dunks and catching the Pistons surprisingly flat-footed.
Karl is a veteran coach capable of great insight and perspective after his decades in the game. He had said before the game that each NBA team has a particular "psyche" that can rapidly and unpredictably change. His team's "psyche" was that they'd been playing well on the road and stinking it up at home. Sure enough, that all changed over the next three hours as the Nuggets played like killers against the best team in the league just two nights after getting booed off the same court.
Karl's description of his teams "psyche" prompted me to reflect back to Cleveland and realize that the Cavs had been in the throes of an inferiority "psyche." Were they good enough and tough enough to back up the cocky attitude they showed when they beat the Pistons on New Year's Eve? They didn't stand the test.
Seattle had a different "psyche." They'd just shorn so-called bad apples named Potapenko, Evans and Radmanovic who were considered detrimental to the team esprit de corps, and acquired Chris Wilcox and Earl Watson. Both played well as new arrivals, and along with team leaders Ray Allen and Luke Ridenour, the Sonics put on a spirited performance punctured only by Rip Hamilton's last second winning basket.
Then there was the Lakers "psyche" Saturday night. Earlier in the week, after an ugly loss to the worst in the west Trailblazers, Phil Jackson described his team by saying, "They stink." Smush Parker said, "Our problem is team chemistry and I don't know how to change it." They changed it with an 18-0 run late in the third quarter and into the fourth, as the Lakers beat the now extremely road weary Pistons by 11.
Tony Delk joined the team on this trip and he seems to fit the Pistons character and performance profile perfectly. He plays both guard positions; is a well-traveled veteran like Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups; he's a family man like most of the Pistons, and he's content in a backup role, which is critical to fitting in here. Delk had been rotting on the sidelines of Atlanta's youth movement and this gives him a shot at career redemption and a championship ring. He's a veteran, versatile and smart enough to fit into the Pistons "psyche." Delk played well in both Seattle and LA, and his 15 combined minutes in those two games was over double the number of minutes he’d played in Atlanta all season!
Tony Delk joined the team on this trip and he seems to fit the Pistons character and performance profile perfectly. He plays both guard positions; is a well-traveled veteran like Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups; he's a family man like most of the Pistons, and he's content in a backup role, which is critical to fitting in here. Delk had been rotting on the sidelines of Atlanta's youth movement and this gives him a shot at career redemption and a championship ring.
He's a veteran, versatile and smart enough to fit into the Pistons "psyche." Delk played well in both Seattle and LA, and his 15 combined minutes in those two games was over double the number of minutes he’d played in Atlanta all season!
Travel is a fact of NBA life, and although the team had hoped for more, a split of the trip is not all that bad. The tough part of the schedule is over and the Pistons can rest for a few days and head into the home stretch with just 23 of the 82 games remaining.
As always, we'll try to stay in tune with their "psyche" and thank George Karl for giving us the word of the trip. It helps us make some sense out of the many unpredictable swings of fortune that makes life in the NBA so fascinating.