Eastern Conference Leaves Playoff Door Open for Recovering Pistons

calvin kipleContributor IDecember 29, 2009

PHOENIX - NOVEMBER 22:  Ben Gordon #7 of the Detroit Pistons puts up a shot during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on November 22, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Pistons 117-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On Sunday, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Gordon returned to play for the Detroit Pistons.

They seemed to be at least 50 percent of their healthy selves. The good news for them and all Pistons fans is that the East is bad enough to stll give the team a chance at the playoffs.

Doubters will say that team chemistry, which at times was great without Rip and Prince, will be tested. Yes it will, but in a great way.

Let's not forget what drove the Pistons to the 2004 NBA championship. These players were tough competitors.

The guys at practice are mostly a bunch of young, new guys. Maybe through the last seven games, they got a little too familiar, too content and too comfortable.

Rip and Prince will start whenever they are healthy, and Ben Gordon will get his shots, but the players they replaced (Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell and Austin Daye) don't have to like it.

Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are leaders. They will work hard to establish this as their team. Hopefully, the young guys will compete to keep a share of it too.

We are not getting Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant, nor is anybody on the team going to develop into that caliber of player this year, but I don't think it matters.

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Detroit has the pieces to be what it hasn't really been since Joe Dumas was a young shooting guard—a playoff team that title contenders don't want to go through.

It's very possible. If Rip and Prince can establish themselves as the leaders of the team, and coach John Keuster finds a way to handle the minutes for our overachieving perimeter players, we only need our bigs to do what is expected to have a shot.

Ben Wallace and Kwame Brown to defend and rebound, Maxiell to bring energy, Charlie Villanueva to spread defenses, and Chris Wilcox to collect his paychecks.

There's only five teams with a higher ceiling than the Pistons (Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, Miami and Atlanta).

The Detroit Pistons have a winning environment. I believe this will be what keeps us ahead of the Charlottes and Milwaukees of the conference.

Of course, if I'm wrong, let's hope we get to see what Kentucky's John Wall looks like in red and blue.

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