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Friday, March 3, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sonics

Pistons sharing their brand of ball in Seattle

Seattle Times staff reporter

No one talks about Detroit joining the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the only team to win at least 70 games anymore, but the Pistons are still showered with superlatives whenever they take their unselfish brand of basketball on the road.

"Most teams have one All-Star, whether that guy made it this year or earlier in his career, and some teams have two All-Stars," Ray Allen said. "What they're showing is that a group of five guys that play together and play hard will always beat a team with two All-Stars and three average players."

Said Sonics coach Bob Hill: "They're a top-10 team in history, aren't they? I would think so. They've got a great core and they kept them together."

Six Pistons, including all five starters, remain from the team that captured an NBA championship in 2004. Detroit re-tooled slightly the next season, adding reserve Antonio McDyess, and advanced to the Finals.

The team underwent more changes before the start of this season. Coach Larry Brown left for New York and Flip Saunders, who was fired last season in Minnesota, took over. The Pistons have flourished under his guidance.

The Pistons' vaunted defense is slightly better, allowing 89.1 points this season, compared with 89.5 last season. And the offense is dramatically improved, boosting a 93.3 scoring average last season to 97.3.

"I had friends tell me before I took the job to not take it because of all of the pressure that would be on me," said Saunders, who coached the East in the All-Star Game nearly two weeks ago. "But my thing was, I wanted to go somewhere where I could win a championship, and there was no better team than Detroit.

"When you go to a team like that, a team that's been to Finals in the previous two years, your focus is getting back there and finishing the job. ... We don't worry about the other stuff."

Other stuff such as All-Star nominations, which four Pistons (Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace) received for the Feb. 19 game.

And other stuff like postseason awards. Billups is averaging 18.9 points and 8.8 assists — both career highs — and is an MVP candidate. Saunders will receive votes for the Coach of the Year award, and the Defensive MVP award will almost certainly land in Ben Wallace's hands for the fourth time in his decorated 10-year career.

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The Pistons claim to be oblivious to the distractions that surround them, such as the incessant comparisons to the greatest teams in NBA history.

"Things like that, that's more for the fans and for you all media types to write about and talk about," Hamilton said during All-Star weekend. "The guys in that locker room, and I mean this, we don't talk about things like that. ... We talk about winning games and what we need to do to win games."

The Pistons fell off the 70-win pace when they lost three of five before the All-Star break. They reeled off six straight victories after the break, but fell 98-87 on Wednesday in Denver, which dropped their record to 47-10.

At their current pace, Detroit will finish with a 68-14 record, which would tie the 1972-73 Boston Celtics for the fourth-best mark in NBA history.

"I won't call them a dynasty yet because to be a dynasty, you have to win titles," said Allen, whose Sonics play Detroit at 7:30 tonight at KeyArena.

"They've been to Finals, but they haven't won [multiple] titles."

That's not to suggest that Allen doesn't have a healthy dose of respect for the Pistons, who defeated the Sonics 97-85 on Jan. 6 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. He was on the floor during the All-Star Game when the four Pistons led a second-half comeback that erased a 21-point deficit en route to a 122-120 East victory.

"When the game started it almost seemed like it was unfair because Flip was running his plays and they just put a fifth guy in, told him what to do and they were able to go on a run," Allen said. "They played their brand of basketball — defense, passing and sharing the ball — in a game where you don't see that stuff.

"It's a style that's winning them a lot of games."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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