It was headlined as a ‘Battle of Titans’, the potential representatives to the NBA Finals. The Detroit Pistons would clash against the Phoenix Suns. Each had made their moves prior to the trade deadline, perhaps finding the final piece to the puzzle. This Sunday afternoon showdown would shed a little light on how close they really were.
Many would question the acquisition of an aging Shaquille O'Neal but Phoenix brass would echo sentiments regarding his potential to take them to an NBA title. O’Neal had won championships with two of the three teams he had previously played on. Four titles in all and Phoenix was hoping for at least one more.
Joe Dumars, general manager of the Pistons would acquire Juan Dixon, a five-year veteran with mixed reviews but a resume of great potential. After all he has an NCAA Championship ring with the University of Maryland.
Surprisingly the game wasn’t close. It would be a one-sided affair from the beginning.
Both teams were playing their fourth game in the last ten days following a day off. It was the third game O’Neal would play with his new teammates. It was sure to reveal signs of the Suns transition. Maybe a glimpse of how they were going to be down the road. But there was nothing. The team had no pulse.
The Pistons would take the lead on crisp play by their starting five. Whether it was Rasheed Wallace posting up, Richard Hamilton pulling up for jumpers or Chauncey Billups distributing the ball to his teammates, everything was working. The Pistons’ defense was stifling and the team rolled.
The Pistons would steadily increase their lead allowing the bench players extended time on the floor. This was becoming a habit for the Pistons. Their bench was growing and learning how to contribute.
With regards to the outcome, it was sealed when the Pistons took a 59-41 lead into halftime. The second half would lead to much of the same play resulting in a 116-86 win.
What was the reason for this result? Both teams had equal records. Some would say that since the Western Conference is the stronger of the two conferences that in many cases they were the elite teams when compared to the Eastern conference. The Suns had changed personnel but they were still an accomplished team. Something was obviously off.
The Pistons were playing championship basketball. Six players scored double-digit points. They have all the pieces to succeed. They play as a unit and their bench players are getting better every game. They have developed a balanced attack.
The Suns were starting over. They were a high flying team before Shaq. They scored at will and won a lot of games that way. Now they are trying to be a hybrid offense. Part half-court and part high paced offense. Steve Nash is good, a league MVP, but is he good enough to make the changes necessary to win. Amare Stoudemire is now free to play his true position at power forward. He had a good game, scoring 31 points. The other players seemed lost most of the time. Unsure of themselves, they scrambled to make plays when they could.
As for the new arrivals, Shaquille O’Neal scored 7 points in 33 minutes and Juan Dixon was scoreless in 2 minutes of playing time.
Two teams with bright futures are seemingly headed in opposite directions. The Pistons are second in the Eastern Conference and the Suns are fifth in the West and falling fast. Only time will tell if they have the right stuff to meet again in the NBA Finals.