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Makes and Misses: Remember the … Pistons

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Dwyane Wade. When Shaq went down with his knee injury, the exquisite Wade took over for Miami. He averaged 25 points and seven assists during the Heat's six-game winning streak.
Thursday: San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns. The Spurs are the only team the Suns haven't beaten this season, and this is their last chance. Tim Duncan may not play after spraining an ankle against Utah on Sunday. Regardless, Phoenix needs to notch a win over San Antonio for psychological reasons in case of a playoff meeting in May.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are giving up 101 points per game during their six-game losing streak after yielding just 95 per night all season. If the Cavaliers are going to snap out of their funk in time for a nice playoff run, they're going to have to stop somebody defensively.
Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst Steve Kerr dips into his mailbag to respond to users' questions.

Who do you think has the best shot at knocking off the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs – East or West – and why? Or do you not see anyone knocking off the Spurs?
Rochester, N.Y.

I believe the team with the best chance of knocking off San Antonio is the Detroit Pistons.

The Spurs have proven that they can play any style – slow, fast, big, small – and so it's difficult to see Phoenix, Seattle or Dallas beating them in a seven-game series. Miami certainly could be a threat, but I don't think the Heat are balanced enough to handle San Antonio.

Detroit, on the other hand, is deep, tough and strong defensively. The Pistons can throw the two Wallaces – Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace – at Tim Duncan and bother him. And you can't measure the confidence that comes with being the world champs.

I foresee a San Antonio vs. Detroit finals, and I believe it could be the most competitive championship series the NBA has seen in years.

What do you think of Peja Stojakovic's role and destiny with the Kings now that Chris Webber is gone?

I think Peja Stojakovic will be a King for a long time.

The rift between Peja and Webber after last season's playoffs was well-documented, and Rick Adelman did a great job this season getting the two to play well together. Webber's contract potentially could have kept Stojakovic from re-signing with the Kings. The trade of Webber to Philadelphia gives Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie more flexibility down the line to attempt to make more moves.

Keeping Stojakovic will be the No. 1 priority. He's only 27 and entering his prime. I think the Kings will re-sign him.

You keep using the term "world champ" in reference to NBA champions. Well, the NBA champions aren't world champions. America is not the world, although it's a common misconception in the States.
Cuba Rosa

You're right, Cuba. Especially now that we have lost the Olympic gold medal.

Basketball has become a global sport, and I cannot assume that the NBA champion is the best team in the world anymore. From now on, I will make an effort to refer to the title winners as "NBA champs."

Did bringing back Antoine Walker to the Boston Celtics make good "business sense," or was it clear evidence that Danny Ainge made a mistake dealing Walker in the first place?
Woodbridge, Va.

This is an interesting dilemma. Poor Danny Ainge got vilified for trading Walker in the first place, and now he's being chastised for reacquiring him. I believe that Ainge probably made a mistake the first time he traded him and showed great courage in bringing him back. The reason I believe the original trade was a mistake was because Ainge didn't get a lot in return in either talent or salary-cap relief.

I agree with Ainge that Walker shoots too much and dominates the ball, but he's also a guy who will score 20 points and get you eight to nine boards every night. He's a very valuable player, whether he fits your liking or not. Ainge did the right thing in bringing him back for the stretch run, and I think Walker will help the Celtics hang on and win the Atlantic Division. But I doubt Ainge will re-sign him next season.

It took you until now to realize the Pistons are a top-five team? I was wondering all season how long it was going to take you. How are you going to save face when they win it all again? Don't make excuses. When the time comes, just admit you were wrong for the entire season. Keep riding the no-defense teams of the West like Seattle, Phoenix, Dallas, etc. They will all lose in the end. Miami is good with Shaquille O'Neal, but they're not the Pistons.
Loren Kahle
Longwood, Fla.

Loren, I do think the Pistons belong in the top five now, but they certainly didn't early in the season. I never rank teams based on potential. I rank them on production. And it wasn't until the past month that Detroit really started to turn it on.

Even with their current three-game losing streak, I believe the Pistons are primed for a return trip to the finals. But I won't rank them ahead of teams who are performing better.

Do you think the Chicago Bulls are going to go far in the playoffs, if they make it? Do you think they will be a threat in a couple of years?
Bryant Ornes

Bryant, I think the Bulls have an excellent chance to make the playoffs. With the right draw, they could win a series.

Chicago must find a way to climb to the sixth spot or higher in order to avoid Detroit and Miami in the first round. If the Bulls can do that and face a team like Boston, Cleveland, Washington or Orlando, I don't see why they couldn't win. They compete every night, they have good young talent and they're well-coached. And for those reasons, I believe they have a good future.

Do you think the Portland Trail Blazers have a chance to make the playoffs?


Regarding your assessment of the Knicks and their cap problem, it was right on – with one addition. The Knicks' hand was forced somewhat regarding Ewing because he refused to take the Wilt Chamberlain route at the end of his career. Ewing should have stepped into a defensive role like the Lakers' great center instead of insisting that the offense still revolve around him. It won Wilt a championship and might well have done so for Patrick.
Neil Citrin
Los Angeles

Will, you're exactly right. Ewing did force the Knicks' hand, and I should have addressed that in my column.

I've always believed that an organization never can allow itself to be bullied by a player, even one of Ewing's stature. Had the Knicks stated very clearly and simply to their fans that they wanted to keep Ewing but not extend his contract, he might have made a huge fuss. But in the end, he would have looked like a fool and the Knicks' hands would have been clean. After all, at that point in his career, Ewing didn't deserve a contract extension.

It's easy to say in retrospect, but a little bad PR over Ewing wouldn't have been nearly as bad as a devastating trade that hampered the team's future.

It's amazing that everyone bashes on the Atlantic Division when, as of March 1, it had a 128-154 record and, even with Miami, the Southeast Division was 122-154. One-star team does not a great division make.
Rob J.
McLean, Va.

No, but five bad-to-mediocre teams does not a good division make either, Rob.

How can you leave the Dallas Mavericks out of the top five when they went 5-0 on a five-game Western swing and beat three of the top 10 teams in the league? They were definitely deserving of a top-five ranking.
Jake Kuykendall
Burleson, Texas

I received a lot of mail from Mavericks fans bashing me for not having Dallas in my latest High Five list. Listen, I like the Mavericks, and I think they have a very good team. But with the injuries they've had and a recent bad spell, who was I going to rank them ahead of? Seattle? Detroit? Phoenix? I don't think so.

If the Mavericks are healthy and on a roll, they're one of the top five teams in the league. (See my rankings column from Feb. 22.) But right now, they're not.

Alonzo Mourning is a disgrace. He refuses to report to the Toronto Raptors and signs with the Miami Heat instead. He seems to have no trace of any "player integrity." Do you think the NBA should address this issue at the next labour negotiations?

Jeremy, I'm not a fan of players refusing to report to a team and then demanding a buyout. It's something we saw an awful lot of the last month. On the other hand, if it's a mutually beneficial deal, I don't have a problem with it. But when a player forces a team's hand, I don't like it.

In my mind, when you sign an NBA contract, you are fair game to be traded anywhere in the league. That is the price you pay as a fabulously compensated athlete. I was traded several times and uprooted from my family, and it was very difficult. But I always felt obligated to report to my new team because I was under contract with them.

Contracts should be honored, and players should play wherever they're asked to go. It's a privilege to play in the league, and players should realize that. Should it be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement? Yes.

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