It's only November. It's only 13 games into the regular season for the Celtics and 12 for the Pistons. The Pistons didn't have Allen Iverson for training camp and do not have Antonio McDyess right now.
So despite two Celtics blowouts, including last night's 98-80 triumph at TD Banknorth Garden, the defending champions should expect a much more talented foe come playoff time.
"I definitely feel like we got enough time," said Iverson, who had 16 points, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers last night. "It's 12 games into the season, man. We have 70 more games. It's a long season."
Said Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, "We're still trying to find our identity. And it's still early in the season."
The Pistons (8-4) have been to the Eastern Conference finals six straight years, but have not been to the Finals since 2005. After being knocked out by the Celtics in the East finals last season, Pistons president Joe Dumars said a major change could be coming.
The Pistons had a steady floor general with three-time All-Star Chauncey Billups, who made sure everyone got the ball and was known for nailing big shots in clutch situations. But Dumars wanted to pick up the pace and acquired the always uptempo Iverson from Denver for Billups, McDyess, and Cheikh Samb Nov. 3.
The Nuggets needed a veteran point guard to slow things down and the Pistons had a need for speed, so the trade has been good for both teams (the Nuggets are 7-1 with Billups in the lineup). Although Detroit is eyeing the gorgeous 2010 free agent market led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, Iverson has quickly fallen in love with the Pistons and is hopeful he can re-sign during free agency next summer. Winning big would help Iverson's cause.
"I'm as happy as I can be," Iverson said. "This is a great opportunity for me. I just feel like I've been put in a position to succeed."
It was bad enough that Detroit lost on the road to struggling New Jersey in its first game with Iverson. But after the Celtics hammered them, 88-76, Nov. 9 in Iverson's home debut, fans booed and many second-guessed the dealing of the popular Billups.
Despite that first easy win, Celtics coach Doc Rivers left Motown nervous about how revved up the Pistons could be with Iverson.
"I was yelling to get back [on defense] the entire game and I hadn't done that in previous years in Detroit," Rivers said. "That worried me, even in that game when they didn't take advantage of it. I was laughing with [assistant coach Tom Thibodeau] after the game and I said, 'I don't think I've said that 20 times in the past and I thought the whole game I was screaming to get back.' Iverson puts so much pressure on your transition defense."
The Pistons had gone 4-1 since the first loss to the Celtics. During that span, they averaged 99 points, but the Celtics' dominating defense slowed them down dramatically last night. Detroit had made major statements by winning on the road against Cleveland Wednesday night and knocking off the undefeated Lakers Nov. 14.
"Beating the Lakers and the Cavs, that speaks volumes," said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who had 12 points in 24 minutes. "You knew they were going to get better. They had to get comfortable with Allen and Allen had to get comfortable with the system."
The Pistons are still a work in progress. More important, McDyess is a major missing piece. He is expected to re-sign with Detroit Dec. 7.
McDyess accepted a buyout from the Nuggets after the trade, cleared a 48-hour waiver window, then was eligible to sign anywhere except Detroit. Now he has to wait 30 days to join the Pistons, which is when conditions of the trade will be satisfied.
And without McDyess, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince are being overused.
"That shooting big [gives] a chance to spread the floor more," said Wallace of McDyess. "We'll see how it carries out. Of course, that's up to [McDyess]. Whether he's going to retire or go to another team, that's his call. If not, we'll have to roll with what we have."
No question, James is the best player in the East. But come playoff time, there won't be two better teams in the East than the Celtics and Pistons (with Iverson and McDyess). The Celtics don't play the Pistons again until Jan. 30 in Detroit. And at that time, Boston will finally get a taste of what its Eastern Conference rival can be about.
"Either way, we're going to see them in the playoffs," Allen said. "It doesn't matter how it's going to be, whether we have home-court advantage or they do. We're going to see them. They have veterans on their team, playoff experience, and guys that know how to win on their team. When it comes to that, records go out to window."