The buzz around Detroit these days is that the Pistons could be one of the NBA's most improved teams in 2012-2013. However, as any basketball fan knows, talk is cheap. Performance on the court is the only thing that matters. Improvement will ultimately be decided in the win column.
The Pistons certainly need to get more of those. In the last three years, whatever improvement Joe Dumars made to the roster didn't immediately result in more wins.
Then the Pistons gelled during the second half last year and played .500 basketball—a major accomplishment for a team considered to be one of the 10-worst teams in the league.
That set the stage for the cautious optimism in the air now.
Are the Pistons for real? Are they a playoff-caliber team? There's only one way to tell. They have to win big games on big stages.
Here are some potential statement wins for Detroit to show that they've finally arrived on the NBA-relevency scene.
What better way to start the season then a trip to La-La Land in November?
The Pistons won't have time to enjoy the balmy weather, though. They'll be facing the new and improved Lakers, re-assembled with only one goal in mind: another championship.
Kobe Bryant is quickly reaching the end of his career rope, and he only needs one more championship to tie Michael Jordan for the most in NBA history. The Lakers gave him the best supporting cast he's had in years to help him get it.
Dwight Howard and Steve Nash will provide Kobe with the type of reliable playmakers he lacked last year.
The Pistons might actually be lucky to face them so early in the year. With all the new faces, the Lakers will take some time to develop chemistry. That bodes well for Detroit.
They're still the Lakers after all, and a Pistons' victory would get the season off to a great start. There's no better way to build momentum than to defeat a heavily favored team on their home court.
A win against the Lakers this early in the season won't make anyone tab the Pistons for the Finals, but it would turn some heads.
Getting noticed is something this Piston team desperately needs.
Within the Eastern Conference's Central Division, the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers have been bottom feeders for the past two years.
The Pistons put up a better record during that time, but not by much. They were only separated by four games last season and split the season series.
If the Pistons want to be taken seriously, they must be able to defeat the division's worst—regardless of Kyrie Irving Cleveland is the worst—and defeat them handily.
With a star like Irving leading their offense, the Cavs can be dangerous team. However, they haven't assembled enough talent around him to make them real contenders.
Unlike the Pistons, they don't have enough depth to compete in the East.
On December 3rd, the Pistons have the opportunity to show how much they've improved. They can distance themselves from the Cavs by beating them decisively at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
While defeating the NBA's elite teams will improve their reputation immensely, they must also be able to beat the less-than teams. If not, the Pistons will find themselves included in that group for another year.
The Pistons don't have many nationally televised games this year—just three. Such is the life of a team with no viable superstar.
This game will be their first of the season, televised on NBA TV.
Beating the Sixers, a playoff team last year and well-hyped because of the arrival of Andrew Bynum, would be a shot in the arm for the Pistons.
Not only because they're tabbed to be one of the best teams in the East, but because they beat up on Detroit last year. The Pistons lost to them by 23, 21 and 29 points before they finally defeated them in the last game of the season.
Unfortunately, that victory wasn't legitimate. The Sixers sat all their big guns so they could rest for the playoffs.
The Pistons need to win a big game in front of national audience, and this is their first chance of the year to do so. It's also an opportunity to exercise their Philly-demons from last season.
By beating a team that once dominated them, they prove to the NBA—and themselves—that they're a different team.
It's not be the best scenario for the young Pistons to fly across the pond mid-season for a tete-a-tete against the Knicks. It seems like a big distraction.
The Pistons are a team simply trying to get better. They don't need the extra fatigue that will come with all that air travel. They don't need the break in their routine to throw them out of whack when they return. They also don't need the interruption during the regular season.
Six other teams will be playing international games this year as well. All their games occur in the preseason. Must be nice.
Nevertheless, the Pistons will play in London, so they might as well win. It's another chance to defeat a marquee team. The Knicks have two of the biggest stars in the game in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Plus they were a playoff team last season.
The Pistons will have a chance to prove themselves in front of an international audience in London. Everyone in London knows about the Knicks. Anthony was just there this summer to compete in the Olympics.
On the other hand, nobody knows about the Pistons. Everyone loves an underdog, and a victory would put them on the world basketball map as the team that defeated the mighty Knicks.
Okay, that might be overstating it a bit. One win overseas isn't going to make the Pistons the darlings of Great Britain or the NBA.
It could be a big statement win, though, and could provide further evidence that the Pistons are a team to be taken seriously.
At the end of February, the Pistons will play back-to-back games against the best team in the Central Division—and a top-3 team in the Eastern Conference.
The Indiana Pacers were elevated to that status the second Dwight Howard left Orlando and Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury. Rose's absence for most, if not all, of the year will benefit the Pacers the most.
The Pistons are looking to rise up in the Central. They too will benefit from the Bulls' inevitable decline, but they can take matters into their own hands by defeating the Pacers twice in two days.
That's no easy task. The Pacers are a very good team that won their first-round playoff series and took two games from the Miami Heat in their second last year. They're young, they play tough defense and have some great scorers. However, they do have obvious weaknesses.
According to ESPN's John Hollinger, the Pacers have a weak bench, foul too much and were one of the worst 2-point shooting teams in the NBA.
The Pistons would be well-served to target those weaknesses. Back-to-back wins against an elite team and conference rival could give the Pistons the confidence they need to power through the second half of the season.
This game is on ESPN, and the last time the Pistons were on ESPN they were known as the Bad Boys and Dennis Rodman didn't have any tattoos.
That's an exaggeration, but you get my point. The Worldwide Leader hasn't had much interest in the Pistons. You can't blame them. The Pistons haven't been very interesting.
Regardless of the past, if the Pistons are for real this season, this is the type of game they should dominate from start to finish.
Laying on egg on national TV against a team like them would only prove that the Pistons are not ready to take the next step.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat are the consensus No. 1 team in the East, as well as the NBA at large. They're heavily favored to repeat as champions.
The only thing the Pistons are heavily favored to do is win more than 25 games—their total from the lockout shortened last season.
It's a classic David vs. Goliath match up, and it's in Miami. No one would be surprised if the Pistons lost. In fact, a loss wouldn't really mean much. The Heat are in a different class than the Pistons. No one would think less of them if they got blown out.
On the other hand, if they actually went toe-to-toe with the Heat, it would mean the world—especially this late in the season, when wins are at a premium. The Heat will likely have the playoffs wrapped up, and the Pistons might be fighting for their playoff lives.
Facing steep odds, with the post season on the line, beating the Heat at their house would be the ultimate statement.