Pistons a real threat
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
If the playoffs began today, the two hottest teams in the NBA would be facing each other.
And as unfathomable as this sounds, they play in the much-maligned East: The Detroit Pistons, presently seeded third, and the Miami Heat, presently seeded sixth.
The Pistons have won eight games in a row and are at 46-25 overall. With Rasheed Wallace providing newfound versatility, the Pistons are not only looking like the best team in the East, but are possibly the best team in the NBA.
After setting a league record by holding opponents to fewer than 70 points in five consecutive games, the Pistons slacked off in their past three wins, surrendering 71, 75 and 76 points (that was sarcasm, folks).
Wallace said recently he wants himself and longtime Pistons defensive monster Ben Wallace (no relation) to be known as "X2" (pronounced "times two"). Whatever you want to call them, they're scaring the hell out of people.
"We're getting teams to play at a frantic pace," Detroit guard Chauncey Billups said. "When they see the rim they just fire up a shot, trying to get the ball out of their hands as quickly has possible."
The Heat has won five games in a row and and is at 33-37 overall. Miami is far better at home (24-12) than on the road (9-25), but its most recent game was a 20-point victory at Washington and the confidence of the Miami players seems to be growing exponentially.
"(The Washington game) was our most dominating road performance of the year," said Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, who has worked miracles with his roster -- and rookie phenom Dwyane Wade in particular -- after a horrific 0-7 start.
Added veteran Heat forward Brian Grant, "You can tell when this team starts turning it on, the engine's revving."
This is not to suggest the Heat would be anything but a massive underdog in a matchup with the Pistons. And while the Pistons likely are locked into the three-spot, the Heat easily could move up or down in the standings.
But it's significant to note that despite the obvious differences between the two conferences, you don't have look outside the East for every streaking team or every intriguing post-season possibility. For a change, it's not all about the West.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
Was New York Knicks coach Lenny Wilkens caught in a fib Friday following an 87-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls?
Down 83-81 with about 26 seconds to go, the Knicks did not foul the Bulls intentionally, and eventually allowed Chicago's Jamal Crawford to hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds remaining. Now, if the Knicks simply had decided they were going to play for a defensive stop, that's up to them. But when Wilkens was asked about his strategy, he claimed he had "yelled" at the Knicks' Shandon Anderson to commit an intentional foul, but it was too loud in the arena and Anderson had not heard the instructions.
Replays indicated that while Wilkens gestured once with his hands, at no point during the sequence was he yelling. Anderson was taken aback when reporters told him about Wilkens' explanation. "I could be honest with you," Anderson said, "but nothing good is going to come of it."
Wilkins, however, fessed up last night, saying he did not tell the team to foul intentionally.
CARMELO STILL A KID
Celebrated 19-year-old rookie Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets has fallen into a pattern of childish behaviour, apology, childish behaviour, apology, childish behaviour, apology. His most recent plea for forgiveness came after he refused to re-enter a game in Detroit last Friday with about six minutes to go. Anthony apparently was sulking after his teammates chastised him for taking bad shots.
"I apologized for quitting," Anthony said. "That's not me."
Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, whose club has lost its firm grip on the eighth playoff spot in the West, was sympathetic toward his young star. "It's part of the growing process," Vandeweghe said. "Just about every great player goes through it every once in a while."
Oh really? Just one question, Kiki: Can you imagine Larry Bird or Michael Jordan or Isiah Thomas ever refusing to re-enter a game, regardless of how young they were?
The Raptors had best hope someone has mopped up the excess water at the Pyramid in Memphis before their game against the Grizzlies tonight. Several court-level hallways were flooded on Saturday after bad thunderstorms hit the Memphis area, prompting Al Harrington of the visiting Indiana Pacers to exclaim, "This place is a mess." The Grizzlies will move into a new arena next season ... When Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming was asked what he knew about new teammate Charles Oakley, Yao replied, "More fighting than playing." ... After Raptors guard Vince Carter announced he won't play for the U.S. Olympic team because he's too busy and banged up, Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics felt as if he had been beaten to the punch, saying, "I thought that was my excuse."