AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Detroit Pistons have defied NBA convention, achieving remarkable consistency with six straight trips to the conference finals without a player widely regarded as a future Hall of Famer.
Detroit coach Flip Saunders credited Joe Dumars, the team's president of basketball operations, for assembling the unique model of success.
"So many times people talk about certain teams have players carry them, but Joe built this team on the idea of a team," Saunders said Tuesday night after eliminating the Orlando Magic. "When one piece happens to go out, we continue to run as a unit."
That was clear in the second round when Chauncey Billups missed the last two games with a strained right hamstring, but Detroit won both times with rookie Rodney Stuckey filling in for the All-Star point guard.
In more subtle ways, Antonio McDyess seems to make jump shots when Rasheed Wallace doesn't - and vice versa - while Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince look to score if teammates are struggling.
Detroit dispatched the Magic in five games, giving Billups and his teammates at least a few days off before facing Boston or Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Pistons and the Los Angeles Lakers are the only franchises to advance to six straight conference finals since the playoffs expanded in 1984, going from a three-round postseason to four.
During their run, the Lakers won three titles. The Pistons are shooting for their second during their current stretch.
Los Angeles - led by Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy - started a run of eight straight in 1982 when it needed to win only one series to reach the conference finals.
The Boston Celtics were in 13 straight conference finals from 1957-69, setting a record that the Lakers trail with seven- and eight-year streaks.
The current Pistons, the New York Knicks (1969-74), Lakers (1968-73), and St. Louis Hawks (1956-61) each did it in six consecutive years.
Some might compare Detroit to baseball's Atlanta Braves because both franchises won only one title during frequent trips to the playoffs.
But Magic coach Stan Van Gundy raved about the Pistons' feat.
"To me, it's as much of an accomplishment as people winning multiple championships," Van Gundy insisted. "It's hard for me to even fathom six straight years of getting to the conference finals.
"That's a phenomenal record of success."
The former shooting guard for the Pistons' Bad Boys teams, which won championships in 1989 and 1990, wants to win his second championship as an executive.
But shortly after the Pistons held off Orlando for a 91-86 victory Tuesday night, he was enjoying a moment of satisfaction.
"The conference finals is what we want," Dumars said. "We want more, but we recognize and appreciate how tough it is to reach the conference finals six years in a row.
"We do not take it lightly."