Pistons, Grizzlies righting early disasters

Updated: January 21, 2005, 10:59 AM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider

While a number of upstarts caught our attention in the early going this season, their success often came at the hands of teams we all thought would be better this year.

During the first half, it was hard to come up with bigger disappointments than the World Champion Pistons, the upstart Grizzlies, the miserable Bulls and a Tracy McGrady-led Rockets team. After stumbling out of the gate, though, all four teams appear to have righted themselves as they scrap and claw their way back into the playoff picture.

In fact, those four teams top our Monday look at the good, the bad and the upside around the league.

The Good

Detroit Pistons: What's wrong with the Pistons? I get this question at least once a day. Over the past month, I've talked about the lack of intensity, the uneven play on the defensive end, the struggles of Richard Hamilton, the thin bench. You name it.

Then a funny thing happened. The Pistons stopped struggling, and no one seems to have noticed. On Sunday, I was asked the same question: "Can the Pistons turn things around?"

Hmmmm ... let's see. The team has won 10 of its last 12 and is on a six-game winning streak. They are now atop the Central Division and just 4 games out of first place in the East.

The Pistons are one of only two teams (the Spurs are the other) that is holding opponents under 90 points per game. Their defense, while not as fierce as it was in the playoffs last year, is improving. Hamilton is averaging 22.8 ppg in his last five and shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

Richard Hamilton

More importantly, the grit that comes with winning an NBA championship is starting to show. The Pistons are now winning games that only a veteran team can. They trailed the 76ers by five late in the fourth quarter after leading the whole game, but they didn't panic, stepped up defensively and hit some big shots down the stretch to pull things out.

After a pretty tough game Monday versus the Suns, the rest of their pre-All-Star Game schedule isn't too tough. Of the 14 games, they really have just five tough opponents – the Magic, Wizards, Timberwolves, Pacers on the road and the Lakers at home.

When you factor in the coveted trading chip (the expiring contract of Elden Campbell) they can move for more bench help, it seems the world champs' obituary might have been written a little early.

Still, things aren't perfect in Detroit.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer