AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- Lance Blanks, a rookie guard, found himself flat on the floor after tangling with Bill Laimbeer in his first full practice.

"The Detroit Pistons sure know how to get your attention," the team's No. 1 draft pick said.

The Pistons seek more attention this year, entering this season attempting to become only the third team in NBA history to win three consecutive championships. The Lakers, when they played in Minneapolis, won three titles from 1952 to '54 and the Boston Celtics had a remarkable run of eight straight, 1959-66.

"I believe we've still got the talent," said team captain Isiah Thomas. "But whether we'll be lucky enough to do it will be another question. We've got to get through a mine field this year."

Chuck Daly, who turned down a lucrative television offer to continue coaching, feels there are always about four teams in contention for the NBA title. This season Daly thinks there are 10 teams -- because of trades and drafting -- that are capable of dethroning the Pistons.

"There are more capable challengers this year," Daly said. "There are five or six teams out West who are capable of winning the NBA title. And we know what Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia can do. "But our players have always thrived on challenges. Our players know what it takes to win a championship."

Management has done its part too. General Manager Jack McCloskey got Vinnie Johnson's attention by threatening to pull a two-year deal worth $2.8 million off the table unless Johnson ended a holdout and signed. And McCloskey also picked up Tree Rollins.

The brains -- and the backbone, for that matter -- of the club is in the back court, where Daly uses the three-guard rotation of Joe Dumars, Thomas and Johnson. James Edwards, Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre start up front with John Salley, Dennis Rodman, William Bedford, Scott Hastings and Rollins on the bench.

A key element to any title drive is injuries. Surgeons repaired a tear duct in Thomas's left eye last week and Laimbeer needed surgery on his fractured left cheekbone. Both were injured in an exhibition game against Seattle but should be ready for Friday's season opener.

Less certain, and more irksome, is Rodman's injured left ankle. Team physician Ben Paolucci recommended a summer of rest. But Rodman couldn't resist a pickup game one September afternoon in Dallas, and sprained it again. One of the Pistons' strengths has been defense: Rodman and Dumars were named to the NBA's all-defensive team and Rodman was defensive player of the year.

"It's like being a teacher of advanced students, which is also a challenge," Daly said. "You have to be flexible in your practices and planning and switching in midstream. You have to stay one step ahead of the class."