AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – In 21 seasons and about 1,600 games as an NBA coach, Larry Brown has seen just about everything, including his share of streaks. There even was one as long – although not quite as pleasant – as his Detroit Pistons' current 13 victories in a row.
"I lost 13 straight in San Antonio, and they [had a comedy] roast [set up for me]," Brown said of the losing streak during the 1988-89 season. "It was my first season. We had seven or eight CBA guys in the midst of a 21-win season. This was before we got David [Robinson]. They had planned the roast for charity six months before. The date was picked. So we lost the 13th and we had the roast."
He shook his head and laughed at the memory.
"I was roasted long before that though."
Which brings us to Monday's immensely satisfying 85-77 Pistons victory over the San Antonio Spurs, Detroit's 13th straight win. The streak ties a franchise best set during the NBA championship season of 1989-90. It also marks the longest win streak in Brown's rich and winding NBA career.
"I've been in this league a long time," Brown said. "I haven't had many of these streaks."
This victory was classic Pistons of late – great defense, timely shooting and unselfish team play. That it came over the defending world champion, reigning MVP Tim Duncan and a Western Conference contender made it just that much sweeter.
Whether the Eastern Conference can really, finally, truly compete for a NBA championship against the powers of the West remains to be seen. But the mid-major side of the NBA has to feel good about the continued winning of Indiana (32-11) and the now white-hot Pistons (29-13). The two Central Division rivals meet Tuesday in Indianapolis.
The Pistons seem to be improving with each victory, gaining confidence in themselves and the system Brown brought in at the beginning of the season. Just 13 games ago, Detroit was plodding along with a 16-13 record and fighting through some growing pains.
"It was a learning curve," guard Richard Hamilton said. "We had to learn to play with one another."
Now just about anything seems possible. Detroit hasn't lost since Dec. 26 and for the season is 6-4 against Western Conference teams with .500 or better records.
This kind of a run was part of the reason the Pistons decided to fire successful coach Rick Carlisle and bring in the veteran Brown. Carlisle wound up in Indy, fanning the flames of a now-heated rivalry and giving us at least something to talk about in the Eastern Conference.
While the Pistons struggled early, it couldn't last. Brown is too good and Detroit has too many team-first players for success not to follow.
"I actually thought we could [win 13 consecutive games]," all-everything center Ben Wallace said. "And then some. I thought we would be a little bit better than we are. We started off good and then we got into a slump and now we are picking ourselves up."
There is no secret to the Pistons' success. It is all about execution and togetherness. When Chauncey Billups struggled early from the floor against the Spurs, Brown went with reserve guard Chucky Atkins, who came in and hit four three-pointers. Billups returned for crunch time, and rather than sulk or press things he scored the game's final 10 points to deliver the victory.
"The biggest thing is the trust factor," Wallace said. "A couple of the games we lost we didn't have the trust factor. We'd have one or two guys running a play and everyone else watching. Now everyone is getting involved."
The Pistons are emerging as the New England Patriots of the NBA. They have no legitimate threat to win the MVP (although Wallace is a truly great player), and no individual dominates the box score every night. The roster is long on role players – Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Darvin Ham. But the streak is the streak.
"Not many teams in the league are going to put together 13 straight," Wallace said.
It happens but not often. Not this year. Not most years.
And not ever before for Larry Brown, who doesn't often tread on new ground.
"It's been neat," he smiled.
And he knows the other extreme