Please see related story on D3Some say the Detroit Pistons are mellowing out this year, but who can tell? Let's see . . . last Saturday night there was a fight between the Pistons and Bullets, after which Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre, William Bedford and James Edwards were all fined. (In fairness, so were several Bullets.) That came only days after Bill Laimbeer was fined $2,000 for initiating an incident with the Hawks' Dominique Wilkins. "That's our game," he told reporters afterward. "We're at our best when we go to war. Maybe we should be part of Operation Desert Shield."

Apparently the Pistons want to make sure they aren't losing their edge on being nasty.Wednesday in the Salt Palace, the Jazz take on the NBA Champion Pistons at 7:30 p.m. The game will be aired on Channel 13.

The Pistons have become synonymous with the City of Detroit, which may or may not be to the city's liking these days. A recent Newsweek article detailed how civic groups are upset over the city's negative image. One Detroit advertising agency even wanted to capitalize on the image with a campaign that said, "We got an attitude. Wanna make something of it?"

A great idea for the Pistons, but not so great for the Chamber of Commerce.

But while the city is making an effort to improve its image, the Pistons aren't worried about theirs. They remain the baddest boys in a bad league.

President of the Bad Boys remains Laimbeer. "Bill's nastier and ornerier than ever," said Daly. Asked last spring by a San Francisco writer what he thought about comparisons to the great Knicks teams of the late 60s, Laimbeer snapped, "I didn't give a bleep about basketball then. I wouldn't know. I don't know anything about the New York Knicks from way back in Ancientville."

What Laimbeer does know is that the Pistons are still rolling along. Following a Tuesday night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit is leading the Central Division with a 13-4 record. There was a sudden, inexplicable letdown in a loss to Washington last week, but for themost part, they are still playing gridiron defense, still wearing people down. Detroit is best in the league in points allowed, holding its opponents to just 94 a game.

The reason for Detroit's continued success is, no doubt, largely due to the return of Coach Chuck Daly, who has led the Pistons to two consecutive NBA Championships. He considered going into television in the off-season, but declined. "I hadn't really made plans of giving up coaching," said Daly. "My job wasn't just quite finished here. There was the lure of wining a third title . . . I wasn't quite ready to finish my coaching days, and basically it's that simple."

But even Daly admits Detroit's race for a third title will be a rough one; he said there are 10 teams - including the Jazz - with a chance to dethrone the Pistons. In exhibition play, the Jazz beat the Pistons 103-101 in Toronto.

Detroit was slowed in the preseason and early regular season by a string of disconcerting injuries. Laimbeer had surgery for a fractured cheekbone and Isiah Thomas had to have surgical repair of a torn tear duct. Dennis Rodman was troubled by an ankle injury. But the injuries are all cleared up now, and Detroit is leading the Central Division.

Although the Jazz players tend to downplay Detroit's nasty image, they aren't downplaying the Pistons' status as the best team in the league, until proven otherwise. "If you can't get up for Detroit," says Jazz star Karl Malone, "you're in the wrong business."

In two games against the Pistons last year, Malone was held to seven points and five rebounds below his average.

"They play hard," said Jazz center Mike Brown. "They're physical, just as Philadelphia is and Portland is, and we are. They concentrate on defense."

NOTES: The release of Eric Johnson on Tuesday indicated the Jazz are happy with the play of swingman Andy Toolson. With Alan Bannister on the injured list, Toolson's position on the team appears secure for now. But player contracts aren't guaranteed for the entire year until the 56th day of the season, which is Dec. 27 . . . The loss to Washington snapped a 10-game Pistons' win streak . . . Detroit is 8-0 at home. . . Detroit is 11-1, Utah 8-1 when holding the opposition to under 100 points . . . Tuesday's game at L.A. began a run of four games in five days for the Pistons, all on the road.