By Eric Woodyard | slamonline.com

A huge poster of a menacing player hangs directly outside of the Detroit Pistons locker room. The player is gripping the ball in his right hand as he flexes his muscle in a Pistons, home jersey. The word “DETermination” bombards the top of the poster in bold, white letters. The person on the sign was a joke to fans three months ago but in the Pistons’ final home game of 2010, could it be possible for Tracy McGrady to steal the show against the Boston Celtics?

Heading into the game, there was a huge build up about the Charlie Villanueva/Kevin Garnett match-up. When the Celtics raided the Palace of Auburn Hills on Tuesday, November 2, the C’s left with a 109-86 victory. Despite their dominating team effort, the trash talking of Kevin Garnett created a frenzy.

“KG called me a cancer patient, I’m pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he’s tossing it like it’s a joke,” Villanueva posted on his twitter account after the game.

“My comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league,'” Garnett said. “I would never be insensitive to the brave struggle that cancer patients endure. I have lost loved ones to this deadly disease and have a family member currently undergoing treatment. I would never say anything that distasteful. The game of life is far bigger than the game of basketball.”

Bullshit! Garnett is notorious for his trash talking and he went way too far with Charlie Villanueva.

In the visitor’s locker room prior to the game, the incident between the two didnt seem to bother Celtics guard, Ray Allen as he sat comfortably studying game film. Come to think about it, what really does bother Ray Allen?

SLAM: It’s been a big thing about the trash talking between you guys, has this been something that you guys talked about in practice about maybe cutting down on because of what happened the last time between KG and Villanueva?

Ray Allen: It has been a non-issue at this point. I think we play from one game to the next and it’s always somebody whether it’s a older player in the league that you know is a trash talker or a young guy that’s trying to establish himself but you just deal with it. Somebody blocks a shot and talks a shot and talks a little trash is part of the game. It’s always been a part of the game so for us it’s been a non-issue even since that issue and I forgot about it to you mentioned it just now.

SLAM: You guys have been in so many battle this season. How is it to get up every night for these battles with everybody coming for y’all heads and continue to play a high level of basketball and stay focused?

RA: You just have to always tell yourself that ‘this team is good enough to beat you tonight.’ Regardless of who it is because they are and you always look at that this could be a turnaround for their season if it’s a bad team and a good team could use it as a gauge so you just always have to remember that it’s preparation and motivation and go out there and do your job.

SLAM: Do you feel like this team is a lot better than last year at this point of the season or do you think you still have a lot to learn about each other with all the new faces?

RA: It’s not really learning, it’s really doing with everybody being on the same page and just going through the process of what it takes to be successful so I dont really compare the last year’s team because all we really need to do is be better than everybody else and not worry about being better than ourselves and how we judged ourselves last year and just beat everybody we’re supposed to.

SLAM: You’re not much of a trash talker, you have always just let your game speak. Do you think if someone talked trash about you that you or anyone else on the team for that matter would be more leery to talk back because of how big it was with the KG incident last time here?

RA: Kevin I think he’s the type of guy that plays the way he plays always. You know I grew up with Kevin and he used to talk trash to me on the floor when we played against each other so I dont think it’s ever personal. He’s for everybody that he plays with and against everybody he doesnt and he’s just always been that type of guy, that type of player.

As Kevin Garnett and Charlie Villanueva met at the center of the court for the tip-off, the two were both “against each other,” as Ray Allen described it. They didnt acknowledge one another, shake hands, or even make eye contact. The tension could be felt from a mile away when Villanueva picked up two quick fouls guarding KG less than three minutes into the game. Garnett would also leave the game after throwing down a monster dunk at the 2:31 mark of the first quarter. He suffered a lower right leg injury and didnt return.

The KG/Villanueva beef would quickly turn into the Paul Pierce/Tracy McGrady showdown. With Rodney Stuckey sitting out the contest due to a stomach virus, Tracy McGrady was inserted into the starting lineup to play point guard for the Pistons. In 30 minutes, T-Mac connected on 7 of his 11 attempts for 21 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Pierce tried his hardest to put the team on his back with 33 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals, including 13 fourth quarter points but it wouldn’t be enough as the Celtics lost to the Pistons, 104-92.

“We played like a team tonight more than I’ve ever seen this year,” Pistons Head Coach, John Kuester said.

“I’m always confident when I’m on the court, it doesnt matter whether I’m a starter or coming off the bench,” Tracy McGrady said after the game. “Now my role is a little bit different. Obviously I’m used to starting and adjusting to coming off the bench is something that I’m still working with but it was just a game that I wanted to have under control right away and get us organized and we did a great job with that.”

McGrady also said this was the best he’s felt on the court since 2008. The Pistons will travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns this Friday at 9 p.m.

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What drives Detroit Pistons basketball? DETermination.

This is the new motto for the franchise. The word DETermination is displayed on every possible Pistons outlet imaginable in the Palace of Auburn Hills. Honestly, what word would better describe the franchise heading into the 2010-2011 NBA Season?

After suffering a loss in their season opener, 98-101, to the New Jersey Nets, the Pistons were eager to bounce back in their home-opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They blew a seven-point lead in the final 2 minutes. The Pistons and Thunder also met last year in the Pistons’ home opener when the Thunder beat them Pistons, 91-83.

The Pistons were once again plagued with injuries, including Will Bynum (hamstring), but with a sellout crowd cheering them on would this be enough to top the young Thunder? If they were to lose, it would be the franchise’s worst start in 11 years.

Pre-Game

Oklahoma City Thunder forward, Morris Peterson, released this statement…

As the reporters flocked to Kevin Durant for pre-game interviews in the visitor’s locker room, Mo-Pete gave him a heads up.

“That’s a Flintstone right there,” Peterson pointed towards me as he tapped Durant on the shoulder just before the interview session began.

“Oh ok a Flintstone? That’s what’s up,” KD responded as he nodded my way.

This set it up for me to ask these questions:

SLAM: How much more confident is this Thunder team this season based on last year’s success?

Kevin Durant: We’re confident (but) I think we’re not overconfident. I think we gotta learn that any time or any game we can get beat but we are confident in that each and every day we can get better.

SLAM: There’s been so much hype and hooplah surrounding you this year and being 22 years old myself I couldnt imagine what you’re going through, how are you able to stay so humble and focused through all of this hype?

KD: You know I didnt have this growing up. I worked for this. It just didnt come to me. At anytime it could be taken away so I gotta be thankful for it everyday and be humble and know that there is somebody better than me and just try to get to that level as well. So I’m not the best player ever or the best person ever so I still got room to grow and like I said just at this point anything can be taken away so I gotta be that way.

First Quarter

“Over-Rated,” a drunk fan yelled early in the quarter as Durant touched the ball. He would quickly eat those words.

Durant more than lived up to the hype! He scored an effortless 12 points, knocking down 3 of his first 6 shot attempts. The highlight of the quarter came off a Rip Hamilton turnover when Durant and Russell Westbrook connected on a fast break, two-handed jam.

Rodney Stuckey set the tone for Detroit, chipping in 8 points and 2 assists.

Second Quarter

A few local celebrities stole the show.

There was more hype about Kid Rock than the actual game. The franchise honored the legendary musician with a banner right before the quarter began. The words “KID ROCK 21 SELLOUTS” was etched onto the purple and white banner and raised into the rafters as the fans went crazy. Kid Rock was also briefly interviewed about his history with the Pistons as his music blasted over the stadium’s speakers.
Detroit Lions, rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was also in the building. He was asked to shoot free throws for charity during a time-out. For every free throw he made, $200 was donated to a charity. Suh had 24 seconds and he was able to raise $1200. Not bad.

Oh yeah, the Thunder finished the half with a 56-51 lead.

The jumper was falling for Ben Gordon as he led the Pistons in scoring with 12 points while Stuckey dropped 10 points and 4 assists. Kevin Durant finished with 16 points and 4 boards for the Thunder.

Third Quarter

Rodney Stuckey stole the show.

There was 5:21 on the clock when Russell Westbook and Nenad Kristic tried to double Stuckey near center court. Spotting how loose they were playing him, he easily split the defense and met Thabo Sefolosha at the rim for a nasty one-handed jam.

Stuckey would strike again near the end of the quarter with his best Allen Iverson impression. Just him and Daequan Cook were isolated as Stuckey had Cook on ice skates. It started with a between the legs crossover which led into a step back crossover and ended with a blow by layup.

He added 10 more points to his total giving him 20 heading into the final period.

Fourth Quarter

Ben Gordon was on fire the entire quarter. He scored 14 points in this period alone. Fans applauded his efforts for all but the last 2.5 seconds.

The Pistons led 104-103 when the Thunder got possession with just 7.5 seconds left on the clock. Everybody in the gym thought Kevin Durant would take the last shot. As the ball was inbounded, the Pistons placed so much emphasis on Durant that they gave up a wide open driving lay up to Jeff Green which put the Thunder ahead by one point. With 2.5 seconds still on the clock, Ben Gordon pushed the ball up court with no regard for the shot clock as the time ran out without even getting off an attempt.

The hero quickly became the goat as fans expressed themselves rather clearly.

“Boooooooo!!!”

Oklahoma City defeated the Pistons, 105-104. Gordon finished with a game-high 32 points but Durant dropped 30 points, his ninth consecutive game of 30 or more points.

Post Game

Pistons Head Coach, John Kuester, summed up the game the best at the post game presser.

“That last play, you have a decision you have to make in regards to trying to put out your best defenders and Green’s a good player and Max has done a good job and Tayshaun did a good job at taking the ball away from Durant. Jeff Green didnt know what to do but drive the ball and unfortunately it didnt work out the way we wanted it to.”

Rodney Stuckey didnt seem too upset, more frustrated. After a 24 point, 9 assists, and 5 rebound effort, I dont think I would have been either. He gave it his all. As he got dressed to leave the office, I caught up with Stuckey at his locker for his thoughts on the game.

SLAM: How tough was that loss?

Rodney Stuckey: Man, we was right there and I think turnovers and second chance points really hurt us. I think if we would have took care of the ball a little bit more and kept them off the boards a bit then we would have been alright.

SLAM: Were you surprised with how easy it was for you to get to the basket all night?

RS: Nah, that’s just what I’ve been working on just being more explosive and stuff like that but that’s my game anyway it’s attacking the hoop.

SLAM: I like how you broke down Daequan Cook in the corner with that crossover in the third quarter, is that ball handling something else you’ve been working on?

RS: Yea just my ball handling and stuff like that. That’s just all I’ve been doing this summer, just been working. I was just trying to prepare myself for this run.

SLAM: Do you think this team lost any confidence with these two tough losses?

RS: Nah, not at all. A little slippage but I think we’ll be alright though. We just gotta come in and do the little things like rebound and take care of the ball and we’ll be alright.

The Pistons will head to Chicago to take on the Bulls tonight at 8 p.m.

*This post can also be viewed at slamonline.com!

Game Notes: Knicks at Pistons

December 31, 2009

If it aint one thing it’s another!

Injuries have hampered the Detroit Pistons all season long. Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Gordon, and Will Bynum have all been hit with the injury bug at one point this season. It’s been so many injuries that fans are not really sure what the REAL Pistons will look like when they are all on the roster at one time.

When they squared off against the New York Knicks on December 29, 2009 at the Palace of Auburn Hills in one of their last home games of the year, it would be no different.

Charlie Villanueva was a game-time decision as he suffered from the stomach flu and Will Bynum, as I would find out later, was out with bilateral ankle soreness.

Villanueva even updated his twitter page prior to the game. It popped on my page as: “CV31: Game time decision for me. Gonna see how I feel during warm-ups. Heading to the gym.”

Pre-Game

Walking into the locker room, Pistons guard Will Bynum stands by the training room in conversation with a Pistons employee. Dressed in full practice gear, without any socks, I was shocked at how small he was. Of course, I’ve seen him before but usually it’s just a “Hey, what’s up?” kind of thing and I’m gone.

Not trying to interrupt his convo, I simply tap him and ask him could I have a word with him when he was done and he said “Sure! I will come back there as soon as I’m done.”

As I waited for Bynum in the locker room, a few of the players (Austin Daye, Jason Maxiell, and Jonas Jerebko) all studied film on the Knicks. The “We Are Young Money” album also blasted through the speakers giving me some sort of entertainment as I waited.

After about three minutes, Rodney Stuckey strolled through holding a pair of dapper red, white, and blue Adidas singing along to “Bedrock” as I caught up with him for a quick second…

SLAM: You’ve been putting up numbers this year. Do you think you have been shining so much because of all the injuries?
Stuckey: Uh, yeah. I know that once all those guys stepped out and got hurt that I just had to step my game up. We went on like a five-game winning streak but we’re kinda in a slump right now but once we get everybody healthy, we’ll be alright. I think if we go on a five-game winning streak then we’re right back in the fifth or sixth spot so we’re right there.

SLAM: I see that your jumper is looking a lot better, have you been putting more emphasis just on improving your jumper and do you think your numbers have improved because of that?
Stuckey: Yeah. I think hitting a couple of more jump shots is getting me a couple more points. (laughs as Will Bynum steps in the locker room)

SLAM: So everybody has been talking about y’all two (Stuckey and Bynum) but how much do y’all enjoy playing together?
Stuckey: Aw, I love this man. He’s cool and we just chill.

SLAM: The streets always debating on who’s better but we’re just happy to have y’all both here…
Stuckey: I like his game, he’s a quick point guard, can get up, got boosties. He’s good!

SLAM: Thanks man! (transitions to Bynum)…First of all, I read a story on you in the Bounce Magazine and before that I didn’t know that you were a streetball legend like that. So talk about playing in Chicago and how it used to be down there…
Bynum: You know I grew up in the city and kind of all around the city so everybody pretty much know me from basketball and I’ve been in like every neighborhood playing against the best player and whoever was their top player. I mean just all the time, just playing since I was five years old.

SLAM: So why do you think you have been able to bring that streetball game into the big stage?
Bynum: I think everybody got a little streetball in them and if they tell you don’t than they probably lying. The top players definitely do. No matter if they from overseas or no matter where they from, they got it in their game. They’ve watched somebody who had it in their game, tried to imitate them or something like that and it’s the same with me.

SLAM: When you’re playing against the Knicks tonight…
Bynum: Nah, I aint playing (smiles)

SLAM: You aint playing tonight?
Bynum: Naw, I’m hurt…

SLAM: Aw, I thought you was playing tonight?
Bynum: Naw, I’m hurt…

SLAM: Oh, for real…
Bynum: Yeah…

SLAM: So what’s wrong with you now?
Bynum: For the past like three weeks, I been playing with a sprained right ankle and I sprained my left ankle in Philadelphia and now I got a bad bone bruise on the bottom of my left foot and I’m just trying to heal it and get back 100%.

SLAM: Is it pretty tough, because you was in your zone, to kind of get back in the groove that you was in earlier in the year?
Bynum: Yeah, it’s been tough playing hurt because people try to judge you while you’re hurt taking it not that you’re hurt because of the way you’re moving sometimes but it’s been a learning process. I’m definitely learning about it and now I gotta get myself healthy and get back to the way that I’m capable of playing. 

Game

With matching 11-19 overall records, it surprised me that 22, 076 fans showed up to see the game in what was listed as a sellout! It couldn’t have been because of the Ben Wallace poster night so it had to be because of Benton Harbor, Michigan native, Wilson Chandler’s return home. He even had his own little section in the lower level (Shout out to my boy Justin from Detroit, who came with Wil’s fam and showed him some love).

Chandler didn’t disappoint as he chipped in 23 points in just under 38 minutes of action on 10 of 20 shooting. He also grabbed 9 boards and 3 steals. David Lee led the for the Knicks with 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists. Sitting next to the New York Post’s Marc Berman, I had a very entertaining night as we chatted all the way through.

New York was definitely in the building!

While Villanueva did end up playing, he wasn’t much of a factor as he only played 12 minutes and didn’t score a bucket. The Pistons were led by Ben Gordon with 17 points, Rodney Stuckey with 15 points, and Rip Hamilton with 16 points on a nasty 5 of 21 shooting night.

The Knicks defeated the Pistons 104-87 handing them their eighth straight loss.

Post-Game

Despite the Knicks winning ways as of late, it still ticks me off that Nate Robinson isn’t in the lineup. Why is Mike D’Antoni Marbury-ing this man? Let him play or trade him…it’s simple!

This game marked his 13th straight game on the DNP list. Although he hasn’t been playing, Robinson continued to keep a positive attitude all throughout the night as he cheered on his teammates while entertaining them as well. In the visitor’s locker room, I had a word with Nate. I had to see how he remains so strong.

SLAM: How are you staying positive throughout this whole situation right now?

Robinson: Uh, God! That’s it.

SLAM: I see you got a lot of strength man and I admire that because a lot of players wouldn’t be able to stay so positive about that…

Robinson: Uh yeah, I imagine I’m gonna play one day. I mean if it’s not now than it’s definitely gonna be again. I don’t know for who but hopefully one day.

SLAM: How are you staying in shape?

Robinson: I workout two times a day every game day, run the bleachers, and shoot my same shots. I do abs and if I don’t do that, I ride the bike for like 20-30 minutes.

SLAM: Just keep a positive attitude..

Robinson: Thanks man! I appreciate it.

FREE NATE ROBINSON!!!!

*This post can also be viewed at Slamonline.com!

Game Notes: Lakers at Pistons

December 22, 2009

The heavyweight division of boxing was once considered to be the most respected division of the sport. When individuals competed for the “Heavyweight  Championship of the World” it was almost as if they were fighting for the most prized possession in all of sports, in a heavyweight championship belt.

As the years passed, this division has been on a gradual decline as fighters in this weight class have went from some of the most popular athletes in the world to fans not knowing who even fights in the division. By the way, can anyone name me five relevant fighters in the division? I didn’t think so.

This is why when Los Angeles Lakers’ forward Ron Artest was quoted in an early November interview by Sporting News as saying he would still want to fight Ben Wallace, it got me thinking: “Who would win in a heavyweight boxing match between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest?”

In the interview, Artest stated that: “I see Ben, I’m on my guard now. I’m always in the mood to fight him. … I’ll get suspended 10 games, 15 games (because) I’ll just fight him right there. It won’t go into the stands.”

He also revealed his intentions on wanting to become a professional boxer: “I started training two years ago,” he said to SN. “In four years, I’m going to try to have my first fight.”

After receiving a lot of flack after these comments, Artest later clarified his comments on a Chicago radio station.

“Ben is cool,” Artest told a Chicago radio station, ESPN.com reported. “I admire how he plays defense.”

“I don’t want to fight Ben Wallace in no street. I don’t want to fight Ben Wallace on no basketball court. But after our careers are over, I will fight Ben Wallace in the boxing ring. But not out of hatred. But out of it would be a good boxing match. So don’t look forward to me fighting Ben on a basketball court, because that’s not going to happen.”

In a response to Artest’s challenge, Wallace was quoted from ESPN.com prior to a Pistons-Bulls game as saying: 

“He said he wants to fight me?” Wallace asked reporters

Yeah,” a reporter responded.

“Well, [you] need to test him and see if he’s still drinking,” Wallace said.

In a game that was billed as the “Lakers at Pistons” on a Sunday afternoon in Auburn Hills, Mich. on December 20, 2009; the marquee matchup should have been “Artest v.s. Wallace” as this game marked their first showdown between the two since Artest’s comments last month.

Pre-Fight:

Artest was relatively loose as he chilled in the visitor’s locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills. He was draped in black and purple Lakers practice gear and lacing up his black, white and purple Peak sneakers, clowning with teammates, when I approached him for an interview.

SLAM: I heard that you were quoted a while ago as saying that you and Ben Wallace should go through a sparring session, can you elaborate on that for me (Laughs)

Ron Artest: It was just something funny, just something fun. I just think it would be fun, you know? nothing personal and I think it would raise a lot of money too for charity.

SLAM: So you’re serious about that, you would really wanna do that?

RA: If it’s fun enough! If it’s like enjoyable enough for the fans and ourselves to raise some money than why not?

SLAM: Are you a big boxing fan?

RA: Yeah, definitely.

SLAM: Who’s your favorite boxer?

RA: Manny (Pacquiao) and Floyd (Mayweather) right now. That’s everybody’s right now so that’s obvious.

SLAM: I know everybody’s been asking you about coming back to the Palace and playing against Ben in the Palace for one of the first times…how do you feel about that? Is it gonna be a lot of emotions?

RA: Oh, I didn’t play against Ben in the Palace yet? (looks in deep thought)

SLAM: I mean after playing with different teams and then coming back…

RA: Yeah I did. Hold on, I played in Indiana, came back (pauses)…got traded…then got traded to Sacramento. I missed one game…Ben (pauses)…I don’t know? Is this my first time?

SLAM: I’m not exactly sure…It should be one of them though…

RA: I don’t know, it don’t matter.

SLAM: You don’t really think about that coming back…

RA: Yeah (laughs)

SLAM: Do the fans usually heckle you when you come back?

RA: They used to heckled me a lot before when I came back. Detroit is Detroit, you know?

SLAM: I know you had to do a lot of community service after that (incident), do you feel like you connected with the fans more by doing those types of things? Do you feel like that made you look better to Detroit?

RA: I don’t care about looking better to anybody. I don’t care about what people think about me at all!

SLAM: The final question I have for you is how would you attack if y’all did have that sparring session?

RA: I don’t know, I would have to call Freddie Roach. I would have to go to Freddie Roach and then ask Freddie what should I do (laughs).

In the Pistons locker room, Ben Wallace chilled in his corner locker as he watched football highlights on the big screen television on ESPN. He declined to offer any comments on the fight but did say this: “I ain’t trying to get caught up in that stuff. I don’t fight or box, but I will smack the sh** outta somebody!”

Introductions:

While most fight fans have become accustomed to hearing the sweet sounds of Michael Buffer or Jimmy Lennon Jr. announcing the fighters introductions, for this fight they would have to settle with Pistons P.A. announcer John Mason.

“Basketball fans from the great state of Mee-sheee-Ghan, we are now here at the premiere sports and entertainment venue, The Palace! On the big stage, under the bright lights, they come to play NBA basketball in Deee-Troit. National City Bank presents…the Deee-Troit Pistons!!”

“As we now honor America with the singing of the national anthem being performed by the group seen on the hit TV show ‘America’s Got Talent’ this is Mosaic.”

After the performance from the group, Mason then introduced Ron Artest and the LA Lakers. Saving Artest’s introduction for last, Mason said.

“From St. John’s, number 37, the 6-7 forward Ron Artest!”

Artest heard boo’s as he entered the ring. In the other corner, Mason also saved his opponent, Ben Wallace, for last as he was introduced as:

“At center, Pistons’ six! From Virginia Union at 6-9. Ready to defend! BBBBBB-Ben WWWWWW-Wallace!!” (Bells ring and fire sparks into the air from the backboard.

Tale of the Tape

Ron Artest        

Born: Nov 13, 1979
Age: 27
Height: 6-7 
Weight: 260 lbs. 
College: St. John’s, N.Y.
Years Pro: 10
Nickname: Ron Ron
 
Ben Wallace
 
Born: Sep 10, 1974
Age: 35
Height: 6-9 
Weight: 240 lbs. 
College: Virginia Union
Years Pro: 13
Nickname: Big Ben
 
Fight

Artest and the Lakers entered the center of the ring (aka court) first as they awaited for the Pistons. As Wallace approached Artest, they simply greeted each other with a slight elbow bump to show their appreciation for one another.

With the fight set at four rounds with each round lasting at 12 minutes a piece, the fighters both knew that they would have more than enough time to make their mark.

Round 1

Artest came out swinging as he poured in 7 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound and 3 steals.

Wallace was on the counter attack as he chipped in 0 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal.

Winner: Ron Artest!

Round 2

Artest chipped in 3 more points, 2 more assists, 2 extra boards and another steal.

Wallace scored 1 bucket and grabbed 2 boards.

Winner: Ron Artest!

Round 3

Artest scored 4 points, 1 steal, 2 assists, and grabbed 2 boards.

Wallace assisted on 2 plays and grabbed 4 rebounds.

Winner: Despite this being Wallace’s most active round…it still goes to Ron Artest!

Round 4

Artest chipped in 3 more assists and one more steal.

Wallace didn’t do much of anything.

Winner: Ron Artest!

Decision

After tallying up the scores, Artest finished the night with 14 points, 6 steals, 9 nine assists, and 5 rebounds. Wallace scored 1 point, 1 steal, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists.

By way of unanimous decision, the winner had to be Ron Artest! I’m not sure if this would be decision if this had been a real fight, but based on stats, he easily dominated.

The Lakers also defeated the Pistons 93-81 with Kobe Bryant chipping in 28 points, 5 steals, and 4 assists improving their overall record to 22-4.

**And to answer Ron Artest’s question, this meeting was just their first back AT the Palace of Auburn Hills since the “Malice at the Palace” on November 19, 2004.

*This post can also be viewed at slamonline.com!

Former Bad Boys, Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace unite!

by Eric Woodyard

It’s been well documented about the success that the Detroit Pistons experienced with Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups competing together in the red, white and blue threads. From 2002-2006, the two delighted Pistons fans with one of the most wonderful runs in NBA history including an NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004.

Billups and Wallace both grew into men during their tenures in the Motor City together.

Prior to signing as a free agent in June of 2002 with Detroit, Billups had been a journeyman who had already played for the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves in his first five seasons as a pro. In the D, he turned his swag on as he switched from the No. 4 to the No. 1 and became “Mr. Big Shot.” He responded in clutch situations, controlled the offense with poise, and earned the respect from not only the city of Detroit but the entire League as well. In the process, he was able to win a NBA Finals MVP, become an All-Star three times, and make the All-NBA team twice and All-Defensive second team twice.

Wallace, on the other hand, joined the team in 2000 as he was traded from the Orlando Magic along with Chuckey Atkins for Grant Hill. While he didn’t compete for as many teams as Billups, he was somewhat of a journeyman as he played for two teams in his first four seasons (Orlando Magic and Washington Bullets). While in Detroit, Wallace became one of the most respected players in the League as he intimidated players making them “Fear the Fro.” He won the Defensive Player of the Year award four times, was selected to six All-Defensive teams and four NBA All-Star Games.

While Billups and Wallace competed against each other since their departures to different teams; December 10, 2009, marked the first time the two competed against each other at the Palace of Auburn Hills since playing together in Motown when the Nuggets took on the Pistons.

PRE-GAME

The “Will Robinson Locker Room of Champions” (aka the Pistons locker room) was empty as center Ben Wallace searched for a remote for the huge flat-screen television that projected from the back of the room. Shoes were scattered all over the floors, the lockers were filled with street clothes, and it was actually pretty quiet.

“Where my remote at?” Wallace said to himself.

“Can I ask you a few questions?” I asked as I greeted him.

“Hold on one second,” he said as he searched. “Alright I’m ready.”

Stepping up to the 6-9, 240-pound, dominating presence I asked him a few questions.

SLAM: Obviously you’re going against your old teammate Chauncey Billups, is that any extra motivation tonight?
Ben Wallace: Aw naw, I have played against Chauncey a number of times so I know he’s gonna be motivated and ready to play when he come up in here.

SLAM: I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to you since you’ve been back in Detroit but I know you have to be so happy coming back to Detroit because you’ve been so productive…Can you talk about how that feels to be home?
BW: Thanks man. I’m just happy and excited to be healthy for the first time in a long time and I can just actually get out here and do some of the things that I know I can do. In the last two and a half, three years, I just haven’t been healthy, if it ain’t my back, [it’s] my knee you know? I broke my leg! It’s just been a frustrating season year after year but right now I’m back, I’m happy, I’m healthy and I’m glad to be back in the D.

SLAM: Since you’ve been back in the D, I know you look at the crowd and see how different it is back here. I remember all of the games used to be sold out when I was younger…
BW: Yeah, I remember we used to lead the League in sellouts here in the D, and like I said before you’ve gotta give this crowd something to cheer about and put that buzz back in the city. Once we do that, people will come back.

Leaving the locker room, I reflected on how much he’s changed. No longer did he have the huge ‘fro, instead a miny fro’ (…Gerald Levert style) in which gray hairs were starting to seep through his scalp. He also wasn’t wearing the No. 3 anymore, instead Rodney Stuckey proudly donned the number (the former DPOY wore the No. 6). I knew this prior to the game, but it didn’t really sink in until after talking to him.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was able to see Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony stroll into the building together. Melo’s swag was through the roof as normal as he wore dark shades and a green hoody and Billups looked as professional as ever, speaking to everyone in his presence even saying “What’s up?” to me.

He looked so comfortable, like he’s been here before. Oh wait? He has.

Despite all of this positivity coming from Billups, I could sense that he was ready to get the game started. In his two games last year against the squad, he averaged 32.0 points but the Pistons swept the series winning both contests.

IN-GAME

Wallace and Billups both greeted each other at the tip-off with a big hug but after the ball was tipped the friendship was out the door.

Billups chipped in 21 points on 6-16 shooting with 2 assists, including a few big shots in the end while Wallace grabbed 16 boards, scored 7 points, and gathered 2 steals. On the final possession, Billups choked on a layup that would have tied the game.

Stealing the show was the NBA’s scoring leader, Carmelo Anthony, who exploded for 40 points on 16-28 shooting with 6 rebounds. Melo scored in every way possible as he kept a smile on his face throughout much of his 4th quarter run in which he scored 16 points. On one possession at the 4:31 mark, Melo calmly connected on an and one after seeing Ben Wallace switch on him. After the play, Melo smacked the hand of a fan in the audience before proceeding to knock down a free throw for his 35th point of the evening. Classic!

For the Pistons Rodney Stuckey went to work as he scored 25 points and Charlie Villanueva scored 27 points off the bench. Improving their overall record to 10-12, the Pistons defeated the Nuggets 101-99 despite the absence of Ben Gordon (left ankle sprain), Will Bynum (left ankle sprain), Tayshaun Prince (lower back) and Rip Hamilton (right ankle sprain).

POST-GAME

Nuggets head coach George Karl sat outside the visitor’s locker room in a University of Michigan long-sleeved shirt and took questions. With the bright lights flashing in his face, Karl commented on Anthony’s 40-point performance.

“Carmelo with 40 points on 16-28 shooting, it’s safe to say he was our main energy tonight. He was good, he was very very good,” Karl said. “He’s amazing when he gets in that offensive mode but we didn’t have enough guys to come with him.”

Inside the locker room Carmelo Anthony sits beside Chauncey Billups slouched in a corner with his head down in black compression shorts looking really frustrated. The media, including myself immediately swarmed Billups as Anthony’s body language made it clear that he wasn’t taking questions at the moment.

Below are a couple quotes from Billups…

On coming back: “I mean, it was my first time last year when I came played here and it was crazy and this is really my first time where it really felt like the times when I played against the Pistons when I was in Minnesota and with other teams and I kinda had that feeling but I always just remember my years here but it felt crazy. I’m never gonna let this put a blemish on what I feel about playing here.”

On Ben Wallace: “Ben is playing great, he rejuvenated himself. He’s all over the place, blocking shots getting rebounds and you’ve got a team where all the bigs know who they are and they do what they do and let the guards do what they do so I take my hats off, they played great.”

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com!

Game Notes: Hawks at Pistons

November 30, 2009

It’s funny how the tables turn…

Times have surely changed for the Detroit Pistons franchise in the past few seasons. While this has been well-documented, one cannot fully understand just how much of a change this has been unless they are actually a native of the “Great Lake State.”

They went from rockin’ sell-out crowds to hoping any tickets will sell well…From contenders to pretenders…From vicious to suspicious. The Pistons are a shell of what they used to be in every way, shape or form at this point of the young NBA season but this may change.

With an overall record of 5-11 heading into this game, it’s still early.

This is why when the Atlanta Hawks came to town on November 29, 2009 for the team’s eighth home game, there were only 15,273 fans in attendance. This is a problem when the building has a capacity of 22,076! Just to remind you, this was the same franchise that recorded the League’s highest home attendance from 2002-2008.

Despite their lack of fans in the arena, would it still be possible for them to put on a show for the ones who did show up?

With over an hour until the official tip-off, the media, including myself, lined up outside of the Pistons locker room as we waited for media availability to begin. After about three minutes, we were given the heads up to greet the head coach John Kuester as he sat in a secluded white-walled room in the front of the locker room.

Kuester sat behind the desk, reminiscent of the Godfather, as he took a few questions from the individuals who bombarded his area. Without Ben Gordon (left ankle sprain), Richard Hamilton (right ankle sprain), and Tayshaun Prince (small ruptured disc-lower back), Kuester made it clear that he was “gonna make some changes in the line-up.” But he would not be specific as he said he would address those changes later.

From there, I went into the locker room and had a quick word with Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva.

SLAM: Atlanta’s been playing pretty tough this season. Are you guys a little extra focused to play them because of how good they have been doing?
Charlie Villanueva: Yeah. Atlanta’s one of the hottest teams in the East right now. They‘re playing very good basketball right now and we’re just gonna try to take the approach like we’ve always been taking and try to win every game possible. We respect our opponent but we gotta try to win this game.

SLAM: Has it been frustrating so far? How have you been trying to keep your head up here in Detroit?
CV: It’s been a little frustrating, just the fact that we have all of these injuries to key players. We haven’t really, except for that first game, had everybody on the court at the same time but we will overcome this by the time we get everybody healthy.

SLAM: I’m following you on Twitter and I see that you and my fellow Flintstone Charlie Bell are always going at it. Has he been getting on you since y’all have been losing? [Laughs]
CV: Charlie Bell, that’s my partner. He’s cool. A cool guy and he’s a character, a good guy and we’re just clowning on each other but it’s all fun and games, though.

While I was able to give Charlie a quick laugh, you could sense the frustration in his eyes as he removed his diamond earrings and prepared for another battle against the 12-4 Atlanta Hawks, who looked as comfortable as ever. In their locker room, the Hawks looked relaxed and focused as Joe Johnson talked on his cell phone and the rest of the squad chit-chatted and watched film. In the midst of this, I decided to have a word with the former University of Michigan Wolverine, Jamal Crawford who sat in the back with his hands folded, crouched down in his seat.

SLAM: You have one of the sickest crossovers in the League. You had to learn that at Michigan…
Jamal Crawford: [Laughs] I learned that before Michigan, but I used it there for sure.

SLAM: What’s the best situation that you feel like you use your crossover in?
JC: It just depends on what the defense is doing at that moment. I’m trying to see what I can get for my teammates and for myself.

SLAM: Do you like coming back to Michigan?
JC: Yeah, yeah I like coming back to play for sure.

SLAM: It’s so cold out here though man. Have you ever got used to the coldness here?
JC: Yeah it helped prepare me for Chicago and New York from how cold it could be here.

SLAM: So why did you choose to play at Michigan?
JC: Just growing up watching the Fab Five and the national exposure. It’s also a great school and I [liked] the opportunity to play right away.

SLAM: Do you ever talk to some of the Michigan players like Manny Harris and those new guys?
JC: I haven’t talked to Manny yet, but I’ve talked to some of the coaches. When I first left I talked to some of the players because they were still some of the people that I came in with and I was still watching them.

SLAM: You gotta expect big things from them this year, huh?
JC: Yeah, yeah for sure. They surprising a lot of people, they’re playing well.

SLAM: Alright man, what am I gonna get from you tonight? You gotta hit somebody with a crossover for me…
JC: You may get one tonight [laughs].

In-Game

After Pistons announcer, John Mason, did the great job that he always does of introducing the players, Crawford spotted me at the media table and game me a slight nod as if to say “I got you!” While he didn’t start (…I’m still not sure why) he came off the bench and lit up the Pistons for 20 points on 8-12 shooting, flirting with that wicked crossover all evening.

Despite his valiant effort, this would not be enough to stop the focused Pistons team who clicked on all cylinders. With an obvious motivation to end their seven-game losing streak, the Pistons got help from everyone including Rodney Stuckey who led the way with 23 points and 8 assists.

Stuckey was complemented with the play of stout Will Bynum who chipped-in 19 points and 4 assists on 8-13 shooting. Big Ben Wallace also grabbed 18 boards and scored 10 points.

The final score would go on to be 94-88 in favor of the home team.

As the final buzzer sounded, confetti rained from the ceiling as the crowd chanted “DEE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL!!”

While the Pistons would like to credit their win to their preparation, one special fan likes to think that he too is a part of their success…

Detroit Pistons Good Luck Charm

*this post can also be viewed at slamonline.com!

detroit pistons

*click on the pic to view this post at SLAMonline.com!

by Eric Woodyard

We’ve seen this before!

The pieces are in place. The hunger is back. The story is just waiting to unfold. 

Is it just me, or does this year’s Detroit Pistons team remind you of the team in 2001? Think about it for a minute…

• Rookie Head Coach (check)

• Solid Veterans (check)

• New cast of players (check)

• Youth (check)

Just like in 2001, under the direction of Rick Carlisle, look for the Detroit Pistons to be the silent assassin of the Eastern Conference. There is no reason that they don’t have the opportunity to compile a 50-win season.

Let’s be honest here…no one expects them to do much of anything this year right? This makes them the undisputed underdogs of the league, putting them in unfamiliar territory than what they’ve been accustomed to throughout most of the new millennium.

Starting with their new head coach, John Kuester, who has spent over 13 years in the NBA as an assistant coach the franchise has already established leadership from the sidelines. During his tenure as an assistant coach, Kuester has helped guide the Philadelphia 76ers to the Finals in 2001 and played a solid role in helping Cleveland reach the Eastern Conference Finals this past season. He has also helped coach six different franchises, including the 2004 Pistons championship team, under Larry Brown.

This is similar to Carlisle’s coaching journey as he also performed as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets, Portland Trailblazers, and Indiana Pacers before ultimately shining alone in the head position.

Lack of direction from the sidelines may have been the key to last year’s dismal team that went 39-43 with Michael Curry calling the shots. This clearly won’t be the case this season as Kuester brings respect and keen knowledge, just like Carlisle did back in 2001 and 2002 when he led the team to consecutive 50-32 records, winning 61 percent of their contests. Carlisle even garnered the Coach of the Year award in 2002, which may be highly possible for Kuester this season.

The Pistons also had the luxury of acquiring a couple of solid, hungry veterans, notably Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins who were also a part of those two seasons under Carlisle. These veterans will establish the importance of defense which helped build the Pistons to national prominence.

Although a few things have changed with this year’s Ben Wallace than the one from the past, he still will be effective. We no longer fear the fro, he’s in his mid-thirties, and he has a number change (6), but he will now understand his role.

This was a problem in his latter years with the franchise when he wanted to focus more on scoring and forgot what propelled him to the top: Defense! Who knows…we may even see him make a return onto one of the NBA’s All Defensive Teams this season. Look out.

Atkins will be able guide the younger players through the tough grind of full NBA season. Averaging double digits (10.2 points) throughout his entire 10 year career, he has the credibility to impose his will onto the team. This was also missing from last year’s team. When times got rough, there were not any veterans like Dana Barros or Cliff Robinson to help direct the younger players in the right path like they did with the 2001 team.

Atkins and Wallace will serve as that role and bring stability into the locker room, weeding out all of the frivolous bickering that often occurred in the past.

While there has been much publicity given to the new cast of players onto the organization, I really don’t feel as though they have been given their proper respect. Really take a look at Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Chris Wilcox! Those are some big-time pick ups.

Gordon is coming off of a playoff season in which he averaged a career-high 24.3 buckets per contest, Villanueva is fresh off of a 16.2 ppg and 6.7 rpg season with the Bucks, and Wilcox brings that grittiness back to the squad. He also cut the braids to show his fresh start to life…if that means anything.

Anyway to get back to the point, the Pistons will be fresh this year. Unlike any of the past 6-7 years when we knew what we were gonna get when we watched the Pistons: A slow it down, grind it out approach to the game. But now, we really don’t know what to expect.

Teams will fear the unknown because they won’t know how to approach the new team. Will Ben Gordon go bananas? Will Rip Hamilton regain his mid-range stroke? How focused will Ben Wallace be on Defense? Who will take the last shot? Will they focus more on defense or offense? Who are the Detroit Pistons??

All of these questions have yet to be answered. But one thing we know is that the Detroit Pistons do have the potential.

You’ve got Rodney Stuckey (Dumars’ golden boy), Rip Hamilton (Coatesville’s finest), Will Bynum (Chi-Town legend), Tayshaun Prince (lock-down defender), Jason Maxiell (a beast), and DaJuan Summers (hot-shot rookie), just to name a few.

Will this be enough to help them return to championship status? I honestly don’t think so, but I do think the possibility of a 50-win season is within reach.

Don’t think so? Hey, people didn’t think the Detroit Pistons of 2001 would do it either but shit happens!

Video of the Week!

April 2, 2009

83007871AE008PISTONS_LAKERS

*This week’s video of the week comes from  behind-the-scenes at the Lakers-Pistons game. I talked to Kobe, D-Fisher, and John Mason (…Pistons Announcer). click on the pic to check out my video at SLAMonline.com! Leave comments too… 

Simply the best!

Simply the best!

*yesterday was potentially the best day of my life. Not only did I cover the game…I got to meet Kobe personally. I would like to thank SLAM so much for this access! These notes can also be viewed on their site, SLAMonline.com,  by clicking on the photo!

by Eric Woodyard

“It’s cool to love to win but it’s better to hate to lose…”
Nas, The N—-r Tape (2008)

If there’s one thing that can be said about Kobe Bryant, it is that he hates to lose. With such a burning desire to rise above the competition, why would he even think about a negative outcome?

Despite the Lakers success this season on the road, KB24 and the Lake Show have struggled recently in the Motor City. L.A. hadn’t tasted victory in the Palace of Auburn Hills since March ‘02, losing their last nine games against the Detroit Pistons. Although the days of dominance are long gone from the Pistons’ franchise, they still managed to defeat the Lakers, 106-95, on their home court earlier this season in the Iverson era.

With Kobe so close at last night’s game, I got a glimpse of how serious he takes the game of basketball. This inspired me to focus on his every move…

Pregame

After arriving only 30 minutes before the game because of car issues and finding my seat directly behind the Lakers bench, my eyes were fixed on Black Mamba. I didn’t even notice Aretha Franklin passing right by me. To be honest, I didn’t even care.

I watched my idol do his job. He was dressed in purple with yellow trimmings, showcasing a white No. 24 stitched on his fabric, a yellow wristband squeezing his left elbow, white tape on his ring finger, black and yellow, Nike Zoom Kobe IV’s tied to his feet, with tattoos on his arms billboarding his love for his family; inked in his time of turmoil.

His strength is documented, but his scrawniness baffled me. It doesn’t seem as if KB is so small until you see him in person.

As I watched him participate in the shoot around, the superstar took each shot seriously as he warmed up with teammate Trevor Ariza.

Catch. Pivot. Triple Threat. Dribble. Spin Move. Pull-up! Zoning out his atmosphere, Kobe did this over and over.

His approach to the game was more militant than any other player that I’ve watched. If you looked into his eyes, you could see that basketball to him is what Black Nationalism was to Malcolm X! (…yes, it’s that serious). His eyes lit up every time he touched the rock.

This is Kobe Bryant — the best to ever do it! (Yeah, I said it). Hated on so much, Passion of the Christ need a sequel.

Showtime

Kwame can't guard this.Kobe didn’t waste any time getting everything started as he manhandled the smaller Aaron Afflalo and any other defender that stepped in his path. With the absence of Allen Iverson, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace, KB was like a kid in a candy store, displaying his “He-Cant-Guard-Me” swag all night while filling up the stat sheet. He dropped 30 points, grabbed 8 boards, dropped 7 dimes and accumulated 2 steals.

The fans in the arena didn’t know what to do. Some cheered while some booed the living legend. At one point early in the 3rd quarter when he stepped up to the free throw line, half of the arena chanted “M-V-P!” while half showed hasty dissatisfaction. The noise didn’t bother KB though as he sank them both down. Take that!

He may be the most loved/hated athlete to lace up a pair of sneaks and from his actions during the game, and he has become aware of this and feeds off it. Nothing could throw-off his focus, as I watched the determination in his eye during every second that he was on the court. The same determination that has his team back in tact for another championship run this season. The same determination that has propelled the Lakers to four straight victories. This game would be no different.

The Lakers would win 92-77 over the Detroit Pistons.

Postgame

While waiting to get a few sound bites from Kobe, I decided to chat with Derek Fisher. When he spotted my shoes, Nike Huarache 2k4 in Lakers colorway, we had plenty to talk about.

“Man them are some of the best shoes to ever come out,” Fisher says.

“I know man, I love them,” I respond.

“Yeah, they’re really comfortable.”

“I know, didn’t you used to wear them too?”

“Yeah, I wore them when I played for Golden State. I loved them too.”

After we wrapped up our convo, Kobe walked out from the back of the locker room. Still inspired from his performance, I waited for all of the other journalists to finish up with their questions before introducing myself to him, giving him a run-down of what I do. He responded with great attentiveness, and we shook hands before he left to get on the bus to catch to plane to inspire another person in another city.

Video of the Week!

March 27, 2009

83006871AE008PISTONS_HEAT

*My video of the Week this week came from myself! I got footage of how it was behind-the-scenes at a Pistons Game when they hosted the Miami Heat. I shot, edited, and narrated the project. Click on the photo to check it out at Slamonline.com! (…leave comments)