Saturday, November 12, 2005

Welcome To Detroit -- There's Always Room For Winners Here

Babcock: 15-2-1; Saunders (right): 6-0
Motor City agrees with them

Looks like the Red Wings and the Pistons finally figured out a cure for what has ailed them at the beginnings of seasons: hire new coaches.

Mike Babcock’s Wings are 15-2-1, and Flip Saunders’ Pistons are 6-0 in their respective young seasons, and if two new coaches have started 21-2-1 combined in the same city at the same time, then perhaps it can be found with some intense Google searching, or through a crack team of sports geeks. But I doubt it has occurred, whether it be in Detroit, New York, LA, or Peoria or Parma.

The funny thing is, both teams’ players are heralding their new leaders as offensively gifted yet faithful to things that have brought their franchises past success. Babcock has got guys like Brendan Shanahan motivated again, for one.

"I’m playing for a coach who I don’t want to disappoint," Shanahan told the Detroit writers a week or so ago. "Babs has given us accountability on the ice again." He also has taken the shackles of the left wing lock off players like Shanahan and instructed him to go to the net more and create havoc. Shanny is up for the dirty goals, and it’s paying off.

Saunders has Rip Hamilton excited -- not that #32 was ever not into it. "With this offense I can move around a lot, come off screens, get some shots," Hamilton said last week. Saunders even supposedly told point guard Chauncey Billups that he thought Billups was too unselfish. Had Larry Brown said something like that, we all would have rushed to get him a thermometer and some cold compresses.

Yet both men -- Babcock and Saunders -- are staying true to the foundations upon which they latched: defense. Babcock, with a budding star goalie in Manny Legace and the veteran Chris Osgood backing him up, is relentless it seems teaching his guys to drive the net, finish checks, control the puck, and backcheck. The left wing lock may be gone, but still here is the concept of "Red Wings Hockey."

"When you have the puck most of the time," you don’t get as tired, Babcock says with all the simplicity and wisdom of a hockey guru.

Saunders hasn’t dared touch the Pistons’ bread-and-butter: tough defense. He is not an idiot, after all. But he has
brought with him an offensive resume that says you can create ways for guys to get shots and that you’d better ride a hot hand when you find it. It’s doubtful the Pistons’ offense will grind to those awfully frustrating haults in the mud for five, six minutes at a time, which nearly derailed their attempts to reach the NBA Finals last season. Still, after all the glitzy talk about more points and more movement with and without the ball, the end of the day -- and game -- finds the Pistons stepping on opponents’ throats with their brutally tough, incessant defense. They don’t need a coach to tell them to do that.

Babcock’s Wings had a nine-game winning streak earlier this season. Saunders’ Pistons are 6-0, pulling games out of the fire when necessary. They’ve shut up whatever critics they had, at least for the time being, which is all you can ever really ask for as a coach in this town.

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