The Detroit Pistons were headed to an NBA title last time they faced the Lakers in Los Angeles.
They are playing now like they might be on their way to another one.
The surging Pistons open a six-game western trip with their first visit to the Lakers since the NBA Finals.
Though they came out of the All-Star break trailing Miami for the Eastern Conference lead, the Pistons are playing well enough lately to make a return to the Finals look very possible.
“I love being under the radar, just like it was last year,” said guard Chauncey Billups, the MVP of the Finals. “We feel like we’re the best team out there.”
Detroit has won five straight and 10 of 11, and has made it look easy while doing so. The Pistons’ 97-88 victory over New York on Tuesday night matched their smallest margin of victory in those 10 victories.
Detroit played that game without coach Larry Brown, who is battling the flu.
The Pistons feel they are playing at the championship level, even if they don’t think many people agree.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Rasheed Wallace said. “Most of the sports shows, outside of Michigan, they’ve got somebody else winning. It’s funny, though. We’ll see.
“When it comes down to it, we’ll smack ‘em in the mouth with the trophy again.”
The Pistons won’t go unnoticed if they keep rolling through this road trip. It closes with a difficult stretch of three games in four nights at Phoenix, Seattle and Sacramento.
Detroit’s winning streak started with a 103-81 rout of the Lakers on Feb. 10 in the first meeting between the teams since the Pistons’ five-game victory in June. Bryant didn’t play while continuing to recover from a sprained ankle.
“Hopefully, we can get four or five straight,” forward Lamar Odom said.
Los Angeles follows this game with a three-game road trip against Atlantic Division teams.