The Pistons are 10-3, and might be the surprise of the NBA
By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
The Detroit Pistons are heading on the road for a few days, so maybe someone will see them play.
They’ve certainly been worth watching.
Detroit’s 10-3 start, good for No. 2 in the Eastern Conference standings, is one of the biggest good surprises in the NBA through the season’s first month. The Pistons already have a road win at Golden State, swept a five-game homestand — possibly to the delight of all those unoccupied red seats at Little Caesars Arena, more on that in a moment — and are off to their best start in 12 years.
“I know that we’re playing as a team right now,” Detroit’s Luke Kennard said. “We’re really locked in. We’re really playing together and we play hard. When you have a team that does that together, you win.”
Now comes the test.
Starting Wednesday, the Pistons play five of their next six games on the road — visiting Milwaukee, Indiana and Minnesota before returning home to face Cleveland, then heading right back out for a trip to Oklahoma City and Boston.
After topping Miami to finish off a 5-0 homestand Sunday, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy made no effort to hide how pleased he is right now.
“We did a great job here, and now you just move on to the next challenge,” Van Gundy said. “Now nine of 11 on the road, the next three games on the road against teams you beat at home so you know they want back at you. The challenges just keep mounting, but you put wins in the bank.”
Maybe at some point, there will be fans in the seats.
The brand-new Detroit arena has a listed capacity for basketball at 20,491, which was the announced crowd for opening night. In seven games since, the Pistons have announced crowds between 13,709 and 17,683 — and those numbers may be generous, given how empty the building looks on television. Officially, Detroit sold 76 percent of its tickets in those seven games.
Technically, no foreign player has ever won an NBA scoring title. Dominique Wilkins has one and he was born in Paris, but only because his father was in the U.S. Air Force.
Giannis Antetokounmpo may change that in a few months. And if not this season, then probably soon enough.
The Milwaukee star who hails from Greece went into this week averaging just over 31 points per game and leading the league in that department. He was the Most Improved Player last season and don’t be surprised if he gets more votes for that trophy this season — along with MVP ballots as well.
“He plays now to destroy you,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters last week before Antetokounmpo scored 28 in Milwaukee’s road win over San Antonio. “In the beginning he was pretty darn good and he would do this and he would do that. But now he knows he can do it to you every time. He’s for real.”
Antetokounmpo turns 23 on Dec. 6. The only other players in the last 50 years with 5,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists before celebrating their 23rd birthdays — Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, and future Hall of Famer LeBron James.
A couple of significant milestone dates are nearing.
Sunday marks the 13th anniversary since the so-called “Malice at The Palace,” the infamous brawl involving Indiana and Detroit after Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) went into the stands after a fan hit him with a drink. The aftermath included nine players being suspended, and security in NBA arenas has been different ever since.
And Tuesday is the 16th anniversary of the first call-up from what is now called the NBA G League — the Denver Nuggets brought eventual NBA champion Chris Andersen up from the Fayetteville Patriots, a move that paved the way for hundreds of players to truly view the development league as a springboard to the NBA.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Some games to keep an eye on over the coming days:
— Philadelphia at L.A. Lakers, Wednesday: Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball, a matchup of future NBA assist leaders.
— Golden State at Boston, Thursday: An NBA Finals preview? The road team has won five straight in this series.
— Oklahoma City at San Antonio, Friday: Russell Westbrook has triple-doubles in his last two games vs. the Spurs.
— Houston at Memphis, Saturday: The Rockets’ wide-open offense goes up against the Grizzlies’ airtight defense.
— Washington at Toronto, Sunday: John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry might get overlooked on an NFL Sunday, but shouldn’t.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Paul George, Oklahoma City: His 37-point, eight-rebound, five-assist game against Dallas on Sunday wasn’t even his best game of the week (he had 42, 9 and 7 two nights earlier against the Clippers). But the Sunday game gets the nod since it came on Russell Westbrook’s birthday and when asked what he got his teammate, George said “I got him 37.”
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