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Back to the grind

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So much for the festivities.

The Pistons are back in action tonight against the Hawks, and they had best hit the ground running. With 8 games in the next 12 days--including 5 road games, 3 home/road back-to-backs, and 6 opponents that either would be in the playoffs (as of today) or are within a Ben Wallace free throw's chance of making it--they had better find that A-game fast. A look at some of the subplots:

1. Revenge. Perhaps vengence provides the needed motivation against Atlanta, Indiana, and Cleveland, who account for 4 of the next five games. Up to now, only Utah has managed to beat the Pistons twice. In their only other game against a team that defeated them previously, the Pistons destroyed New Jersey with a sense of urgency unseen in a previous lackluster effort.

2. Star-power. Piston fans will get to see three of the Association's best during this stretch of games, as the team faces off against LeBron, Carmelo, and Mamba.Lest you forget due to the long All-Star layoff (or if you are new to Detroit Bad Boys), know that Kobe will forever go by Mamba on this site. (Follow the link for a full explanation.) Anyone who read Bill Simmons' All-Star game recap should have added desire for the Pistons to stomp the Cavs in their home/road back-to-back against the Cavs. LeBron not only referred to himself in the third person (pet-peeve of mine), but he referred to himself using his nickname ("Bron Bron has other priorities"). WTF?

And as for Carmelo--he should have been an All-Star. Hate on him as you should (if you are a Piston fan), but the guy is finally "getting it" and he's using his incredible skills to make the Nugz a better team. As Piston fans, we all carry an extra dose of dislike for Dwayne Wade and Carmelo (somehow Chris Bosh has escaped our wrath thus far) due to the Darko debacle, but its time we admit that both are going to be fantastic players in this league for a long, long time. Those are MVP-caliber guys, and we're just going to have to deal with it.

3. Respect. So the Boys in Blue are all growns up [sic], with four Piston All-Stars, Chauncey and Rip having played in their first All-Star game, and the starting five in general receiving much praise for their all-around games. Can this band of former-misfits still play the 'underappreciated' card down the stretch and into the playoffs? As Sheed has stated, he'd rather the team be on the back-burner. But it seems obvious--in the wake of their torrid start to the season and after showing that they belong on the NBA's brightest stage--that the Pistons are the favorites now. Don't expect very many to write them off any longer. Even the Pistons' biggest detractors are coming around. This from Kazaam in today's Detroit News:

He sees the Pistons and Heat meeting again in the Eastern Conference finals, and he sees the Pistons going into that series with home-court advantage.

"I don't see them going on a 15-game losing streak, or even a two-game losing streak," O'Neal said during All-Star Weekend in Houston.

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Lastly, I was reminded during All-Star weekend of how much I like Charles Barkley now (as opposed to how much I hated him while he played for the Sixers). For a laugh, check out this archive of Barkley quotes from Charles Barkley, 6.0, and let's hope that they update soon with CB's quotes from the All-Star festivities...hilarious. Here's a sampling from the site:

"I saw what the governor makes. That's like four hands of blackjack."
-- Charles Barkley on why he wasn't seriously considering becoming the Governor of Alabama

Letter from Charles Barkley to Bill Laimbeer, I think in 1989:
Dear Bill,
F--- You.
Charles

Welcome to the Super Bowl [Bill Simmons, ESPN]
Is the best yet to come? [Detroit News]
Charles Barkley, 6.0