DALLAS — The Detroit Pistons in the playoffs? A few weeks ago, it would have drawn hearty laughs. Now, well, it seems downright plausible in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons’ extended their season-long winning streak to seven games on Wednesday night with a wire-to-wire, 108-95 defeat of the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
The night before, the Pistons, who improved to 12-23 after being 3-19, beat the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs at the buzzer. Wednesday’s victory not only extended the Pistons’ longest winning streak in six years, but it ended the Mavs’ season-long win streak at six.
All of this sudden success followed the depths of a 13-game losing skid that dates back to Detroit waiving high-priced and underperforming forward Josh Smith.
“We’ve gotten better on both ends of the floor,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said, speaking in generalities and not attributing the change to Smith’s absence. “The ball is going in the basket, that helps quite a bit when the ball goes in. It not only helps obviously for the reason that the ball goes in and you score a point, but I think it gets your energy up when things are going well. We’ve also defended a lot better. Also our group, I don’t know why, but [it] started Dec. 22, we had three days of practice and from then on it’s just been different. Guys have worked harder, they’ve been more attentive.”
Smith’s absence has allowed the Pistons to spread the floor with shooters around their ever-improving big men. Against Dallas, which lacks an interior presence beyond starting center Tyson Chandler, the Pistons’ duo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe dominated. Monroe put forth a monstrous effort of 27 points, 18 rebounds, six assists and a blocked shot. His partner, Drummond, had just six points, but grabbed 19 rebounds, seven on the offensive boards.
Former Texas Longhorn D.J. Augustin took advantage from the perimeter, scoring 26 points and hitting key buckets in the fourth quarter for Detroit to salt the game away. He scored 17 of his points in the fourth quarter.
“One of the things I really liked tonight is we finished with almost an entirely different group than we finished with last night,” Van Gundy said. “At one point, with 4:40 to go, I turned to my assistants on the bench, I said, ‘Do we want any subs?’ And I had Brandon [Jennings] and Andre standing up going, ‘Hell no!’ You know this group is rocking. So that’s what we’ve got right now, attitude wise it’s different people every night and nobody seems very concerned about it, they just want to try and win games.”
Van Gundy’s decision to pull the trigger on malcontent forward Josh Smith seems to have made a major difference in the Pistons’ attitude and play. They even pulled away in the fourth quarter against Dallas – even though at times it seemed the Mavs were ready to take over the game — winning the quarter 34-27.
The Pistons continued their torrid shooting from beyond the arc, hitting 10 of their 21 3-point attempts.
The Pistons took a 54-49 lead into halftime while shooting only 40.4 percent overall, but 50 percent from beyond the arc, hitting seven of their first 14 attempts
Drummond had 10 rebounds at halftime and Monroe had nine as Detroit held a 30-23 edge at the half on the boards, and a 9-3 advantage in second-chance points, a category the Pistons figured they had to win against a poor-rebounding Mavs team to have a chance to knock off streaking Dallas.
Forward Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 19 points on 8-for-19 shooting, but he missed all three of his 3-point attempts. Guard Monta Ellis had 16 points on 6-for-17 shooting, and forward Chandler Parsons had 15 points.
“We made a few runs, but we never got enough traction,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We got beat in every single quarter and were able to tie one quarter. Really, essentially, it was a wipeout. Start to finish, they just outplayed us. It’s no accident that they’re on a seven-game winning streak and they’re beating some good teams. They’re playing at a high level, and tonight, they were just better.”
There just never was any sustained run by the Mavericks, who were back on their home court after a 3-0 road trip through the East.
“That’s a tough loss,” Nowitzki said. “Especially going out West again coming up.”
NOTES: Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki played his first game in front of the home crowd since moving past Moses Malone into seventh place on the NBA’s career scoring list. … Pistons C Andre Drummond, one of 13 NBA players averaging a double-double this season, entered Wednesday’s game on quite a roll, averaging 15.4 points and 16.8 rebounds in his last nine games, including 20 points and 17 rebounds in Tuesday’s win at San Antonio. He also posted his 2,000th career point in the game. He needs four rebounds to reach 2,000 for his career. … Dallas won the first of the season’s two meetings at Detroit, 117-106 on Dec. 17. This was just Detroit’s third win in the last 16 games against Dallas. … The Mavs dropped to 16-4 against Eastern Conference teams. … This was the Mavs’ first of only four home games in January. They begin a three-game road trip on Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles Clippers followed by a back-to-back at Sacramento and Denver. … The Pistons, who had lost their six previous road games at Dallas, return home to face the red-hot Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
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