Originally created 01/16/04

Detroit's D sets tone for improving offense



AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Chucky Atkins held his hand in the air, Richard Hamilton ran through a maze of screens and Ben Wallace flashed across the lane.

Wallace - no longer just a defender and rebounder - caught a pass, pump faked, dribbled and scored on a finger roll.

After an uneven start that saw the Detroit Pistons standing around on offense often looking confused, they have won 10 straight games because their record-breaking defense is complemented by an offense suddenly in sync.

"Because I was new to them, and they were new to me, I didn't know what they were comfortable doing before, clearly," Detroit's first-year coach Larry Brown said Thursday. "They gave me a lot of input about what they liked to do, and I listened. Now, things feel a lot more comfortable."

Other teams are far from comfortable when they have the ball against Detroit.

With quick feet, active arms and bruising bodies, the Pistons rank among league leaders by giving up just 85.3 points a game.

They broke an NBA record - set by New York in 2000-01 - by holding 38 straight opponents, including two last season, to fewer than 100 points.

"That's a point of pride for us," Chauncey Billups said. "We try to hold teams under 90 points, so we're going to hold most of them under 100."

The high-powered Dallas Mavericks broke the streak on Jan. 11 by scoring 102 points, but lost by 13.

Since the shot clock was implemented in 1954-55, Miami holds the NBA single-season record for limiting opponents to under 100 points. In the 2000-01 season, the Heat did it 74 times, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Detroit could break that mark, too.

Because Brown uses as many as five reserves, he is able to keep fresh players in the game to harass teams defensively and run his intricate offensive sets at the other end of the court.

Detroit's 95-91 win over Toronto on Wednesday extended its best winning streak since "The Bad Boys" won 11 in a row during 1990-91. The franchise's longest winning streak is 13 games set in 1989-90, the season the Pistons won their second straight NBA title.

Detroit is not just beating up on teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Pistons are 9-5 against the West, including a 10-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers two months ago.

"I don't look at winning streaks," said Brown, a Hall of Fame coach who spent the past six seasons in Philadelphia. "I just think we're getting better. Guys are falling into their roles a little bit better. I really think some areas have definitely improved. We have rebounded better and we've defended better. I think offensively we got a little better feel for what we're trying to do, so that's nice."

Developing a better chemistry on offense is a big reason Detroit has not lost since Dec. 26. Keeping opponents under 100 is not a foolproof formula for success in the scoring-challenged NBA.

Even though the Pistons have kept all but one opponent under 100 this season, they lost seven of nine games in December to fall to 16-13.

Just when some were wondering if the Pistons should've kept Rick Carlisle, instead of hiring Brown, and drafted Carmelo Anthony, instead of 7-foot project Darko Milicic, they started winning because their offense caught up to their defense.

"Larry Brown has done a fabulous job because he has changed their offensive style without messing up their defense or their results," said Toronto coach Kevin O'Neill, an assistant in Detroit the previous two years.

Billups said it simply took time for the Pistons to adjust to Brown, after winning 100 games, two division titles and three playoff series the past two seasons under Carlisle.

"Last year, we ran just basic NBA sets," Billups said. "Now, we're doing a lot more complex things on offense. Defensively, last year, we just guarded our man and played help defense. Now, we play a little zone, we double, we rotate, we do all kinds of stuff we didn't do before.

"People don't understand that because the changes may not seem drastic when you're watching us. But trust me, it's different - and it's working."