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Bill Simmons annoints the Pistons as the team to beat

Well look who took some time off from his post-All Star break Celtic-love to throw the Pistons a bone. I've been out of touch since last Wednesday, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to respond to Bill Simmons' monthly "Big Picture" column, where he annoints the Pistons as the team with the best chance of taking home the title. Here's his take:

1. Detroit
What's to like: Best starting five alive ... playoff experience ... built for the spring ... great fans ... two of the best crunch-time guys in the business (Billups and Hamilton) ... swagger galore in big games ... a healthy amount of luck that ranges from "the best player on the other team gets hurt with their team leading 3-2 in the conference finals" to "the best player on one of our biggest rivals gets suspended for an entire season and the ensuing fallout destroys our heated rival."

What's not to like: First, their bench is even worse than last year's bench (and that's saying something). Second, they have had a remarkable run of luck in the injury department -- three seasons and counting without anything as much as a badly sprained ankle. How long can that continue? Third, I miss Darko and his brooding, Macaulay Culkin-like presence during timeouts.

Mitigating factor: When the worst thing you can say about them is, "They're overdue for some bad luck," that's pretty good. As far as I'm concerned, they're still the favorites, bad bench and all. Until next month.

Obviously, it is hard to find fault with Simmons when he is naming the Pistons as his top team. And damned if I didn't try to poke holes in his criticisms (they don't go down easy coming from a Celts fan), but his points about this team are pretty much spot on.

It is nice to see Simmons call "bullshit" on those who have been complaining incessantly about the Pistons lack of a debilitating injury over the past few seasons (they will set the NBA record for consecutive starts for a starting 5 tomorrow night). They are a relatively young team that relies much less upon physicality than their reputation would suggest, and it's not as if they haven't had guys banged up along the way. This has been completely overblown by the likes of Tim Legler.

Simmons is correct to point out the flaws of the Piston bench this season. Despite Matt and my pimping of Carlos "Miami Vice" Delfino, he and his second-teamers have placed a heavy offensive burden on the starters. If a couple of Delfino, Antonio McDyess, Mo Evans, or Tony Delk could get hot during the playoffs, the starters jobs would become much easier, and the chances of bringing the title back to the Palace trophy case would markedly increase.

One thing I will take issue with is Simmons' snide remarks about Dwayne Wade's injury last season, and how it allowed the Pistons to advance to the Finals. If I recall correctly, the Pistons are a championship team because they won it two years ago against a stacked Lakers squad--not because they benefitted from luck last season and won it all. They were a great team before...not because...of Wade's injury. Also, the Pistons took game 6 at the Palace by 25 points--don't tell me that Wade would have made up that difference. So his argument centers on Game 7, and who knows who would have won that Game 7? But I'll take the playoff-tested defending champs 10 times out of 10 in that situation (and, yes, I am aware that the Pistons suffered defeat in the same situation one painful series later).

NBA "Big Picture", March '06 [ESPN]
Pistons ironmen starters on verge of record for consecutive starts [Mlive]