Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Pistons give starters Hamilton, Wallace, Billups much-needed rest
MINNEAPOLIS -- This was no April Fool's joke -- the Detroit Pistons deactivated their three biggest stars Tuesday night for a game at Minnesota.
With the second seed in the East essentially sewn up, and top-seeded Boston all but out of reach, Pistons general manager Joe Dumars and coach Flip Saunders decided to give Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace the night off against the Timberwolves.
"When Joe first told me, I thought it was an April Fool's joke, too," Saunders said with a chuckle before the game.
The Pistons have nine games remaining in the regular season, including two sets of back-to-backs. By the time the season is over, the Pistons will play eight sets of back-to-backs since the All-Star break in February, and Saunders says it's time for rest up for what the postseason grind.
"With Sheed, Chauncey and Rip, all three of those guys played through the All-Star Game and haven't had any rest," Saunders said. "Our schedule's been all over the place. There's been more back-to-backs than anybody as far as in the league.
"We're in a situation that it's a good time for them to get a rest. How much they rest down the stretch, we'll have to wait and see. Having two days off, playing, and then having another two days off, it was the perfect time."
Rodney Stuckey, Jarvis Hayes and former Timberwolves center Theo Ratliff were put in the starting lineup for the Pistons, who started the night six games back of first-place Boston, but 5½ games ahead of third-place Orlando, in the East, making their position fairly comfortable.
They play the Timberwolves (19-53), the Nets (31-43), Miami (13-61) and New York (20-53) in their next four games, meaning more rest could be coming.
"I think it's a reward for the older guys," Saunders said. "We've kind of done things to take care of business. Now we need to get rejuvenated for the playoffs, so we can have an opportunity to catch your breath before the playoffs begin."
Told of the rather unconventional move, Wolves coach Randy Wittman, a former assistant under Saunders in Minnesota, shrugged it off.
"We're not worried about Rasheed or Chauncey or whoever is over there for them," Wittman said. "We're worried about playing the right way."
The Timberwolves have won seven of their last 12 games, including a win Sunday over a Utah team missing starters Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur.
Still, Wittman said he planned to remind his young team that just because Billups, Wallace and Hamilton were watching from the bench, didn't mean the Pistons were laying down.
"This is going to be a dog fight tonight," Wittman said. "I don't care who they've got. That's the way Detroit plays."