The Detroit Pistons haven't had their top two scorers in the lineup for most of this season, and they were without two of their more reliable threats of 2009-10 in their last game.
Tayshaun Prince has been out with ruptured disc in his back since early November, and Richard Hamilton had played in just the season opener because of an ailing right ankle.
A left ankle injury has kept Ben Gordon out for four of the past seven games, including the last two, and Will Bynum missed a character defining 101-99 victory over Denver (more on that later) with a pair of hurt ankles.
As if that weren’t enough, Chucky Atkins rolled his ankle in the victory over Denver, too, but returned. Charlie Villanueva is wearing a mask after getting his nose broken last week and sitting out one game.
That hasn't stopped the short-handed Pistons from playing their best basketball of the season as they went 4-0 this week. They have won their last 5 games, the second best in the league to Boston’s 10 game win streak, and 6 of their last seven. The Pistons are currently 11-12 in the Eastern seventh seed spot, half a game behind #5 Miami (11-11) and #6 Milwaukee (11-11).
The Pistons defeated Washington 98-94 at home, returning to their grind-it-out ways and ruining former coach Flip Saunder’s return to the Palace.
The Pistons next beat the 76ers in Philadelphia 90-86 to earn their third road win of the season. In the process, they handed a returning Allen Iverson his second consecutive loss in his return from a short retirement and extended the Sixers’ losing streak, which is currently at 12 games.
The team returned to Michigan to find Denver rested and waiting for them the next night. On top of being one of the West’s top teams, Denver was also sporting the NBA’s leading offense at 109 points per game. It didn’t matter as the Pistons knocked off the Nuggets 101-99 despite 40 points from Carmelo Anthony. Former Piston “Mr. Big Shot” Chaucey Billups (21 points) missed a game-tying layup in the final moments, going 0-3 against his former team and seeing his new team lose its seventh in a row to the Pistons.
Christmas came early as Detroit received a pleasant surprise when Richard Hamilton came off the injured list after missing 21 games. His return had been projected to come after January 1, 2010. The Pistons survived a 22 turnover game to beat the high scoring Warriors 104-95. Hamilton scored 18 points and grabbed 2 rebounds to get his 10,000th point as a Piston and go sixth on the franchise’s All Time scoring list.
Ben Wallace has played at an All Star level thus far this season averaging 10 rebounds and being the Pistons’ defensive pillar.
Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva have carried the Pistons offensively, averaging 27 and 20 points respectively over the last few games. Stuckey has also averaged 5 assists and 2.8 rebounds as he spent time at both guard positions and small forward. Villanueva has made an effort to be an inside presence, averaging 3 assists and 5.8 rebounds over the last week.
Other Pistons like Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, Austin Daye, and Kwame Brown all provided valuable production also.
But Chucky Atkins has been invaluable over the last week, stepping into the void at the guard position. He contributed 4.9 points and 2.1 assists, but his impact went beyond the statistics as he kept a steady hand on the offense, served as an assistant coach on the floor, mentor to the young Pistons, and played excellent defense against Gilbert Arenas, Chauncey Billups, Monta Ellis, and Allen Iverson. Like Wallace, Atkins has returned to lay the foundation for another contending team.
Statistics indicate that the Pistons raised their scoring average to 98.5 during their win streak after averaging 90.6 while losing 8 of 9 games and increased their ball movement significantly. But it’s the Pistons’ heart and character that has sparked their winning streak.
Ben Wallace has instilled the old fighting spirit of the former Going to Work Pistons into this new team and is helping them learn what it takes to win. Coach John Kuester has installed a cohesive system and fostered a family atmosphere. And Joe Dumars has held this new team accountable for its actions and production unlike the last years of the Going to Work team, which grew steadily more complacent and undisciplined with the free-spirited example of Rasheed Wallace setting the mood in the locker room.
In the wake of injuries, the new Pistons have banded together rather than given up and battled every night. As they steadily return to full strength, the Pistons are putting themselves in position for a surge up the standings against an unsuspecting East.Also available on Club Pistons and Midwest Sports Fan.