Some things never change. The Detroit Pistons have been a dominant force in the National Basketball Association Eastern Conference since the arrival of Rick Carlisle four years ago.

The Phoenix Suns emerged into a team-to-beat since Steve Nash returned to the team last year. Although their powers have arguably not shifted this year, there seems to be a role reversal.

During their successful run over the past few years, the Pistons have been known for their defense, stopping offensive streaks before they can happen. Former head coaches Carlisle and Larry Brown utilized the talents of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince to prevent opponents from getting ahead of them.

Head coach Flip Saunders arrived with a different plan this season. He is used to a more up-tempo game, instilling a stronger offensive playbook for the team. Approaching the mid-season mark of the 2004-05 NBA year, they have scored almost seven percent more than last year, while sacrificing a mere one percent more points allowed. Since the former is greater than the latter we see that they have increased their offensive efficiency.

Detroit was devastated last year in their loss against the San Antonio Spurs in the seventh game of the finals. They were unable to make crucial shots in the fourth quarter. The Spurs took advantage of Detroit’s weak offensive strategy. The Pistons, in my opinion, lost game seven because they lacked offensive explosiveness.

Thanks to Joe Dumars, the president of basketball operations of the Pistons, Saunders joined the organization, recognizing the need for a new edge for the team. While Brown added the defense that was needed to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals two years ago, Saunders has added a scoring playbook that has led the Pistons to a possible 70-win season.

Last year, the Suns developed a reputation for being an offensive powerhouse. Head coach Mike D’Antoni and point guard Nash empowered Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson to score as they have never done before.

The Suns remain a scoring machine, batting over 105 points in almost every game, but have significantly reduced their points allowed to less than 99 per game. This year, in the absence of Amare Stoudemire, their ratio of points allowed to points scored has decreased by one percent from a year ago.

Like last season, the Suns have surprised everyone with their Pacific Division-leading record. Last year, many found it surprising that the Suns had the league-leading record. Now, even with the absence of all-star starting center Stoudemire, they were able to grab second place in the Western Conference.

The new Suns defense has certainly made the team a stronger contender for a title, especially with Stoudemire recovering earlier than expected. Now they have a better chance at defeating the Spurs if they meet in the playoffs. In the second round of the playoffs, the Spurs would take advantage of the final minutes of the games to fortify their defense and to pound the basketball to defeat the Suns in five games. The Spurs would have a much tougher time this year.

These two teams are perfect examples of how to learn from one’s mistakes. The Pistons’ inability to capture the game seven win in the final quarter helped them realize their weaknesses. They are perhaps the most championship-hungry team in the league today.

The Suns’ downfall last year prevented them from beating top defensive teams although they defeated most teams with their scoring arsenal. They hope this reform, in addition to Stoudemire’s return next month, will bring them a championship.

It would be a pleasure to watch a Detroit-Phoenix finals this year as they battle each other to see who is the better overall team.

Lee can be reached at

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