No joke, Pistons have a chance
The Detroit Pistons would like to think for every doubter, there is a believer, but the believers are few right now. The know-it-alls have spoken and written, and most are giving the Eastern Conference champions a snowball in June’s chance against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals best-of-seven series starting Sunday.
Not so fast. The majority prediction is brutal and bleak, but it happens to be the perfect situation for Detroit ” a no-lose situation with few expecting them to win. Doesn’t it remind you of the impossible dream that was the New England Patriots going up against the high-powered offense of the St. Louis Rams a few Super Bowls ago? Isn’t that the same feeling the so-called experts had about the young and improbable Florida Marlins going up against the veteran New York Yankees in last year’s World Series? Both outcomes were huge upsets ” the underdog coming out on top.
It can happen again in this year’s NBA Finals.
Some act as if the Pistons shouldn’t be there, but they had the second best regular season record in the Eastern Conference, and they ousted the Indiana Pacers, which sported the best regular season record in the NBA, in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. That has to be worth something. It’s not like the Pistons haven’t earned their way.
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Head-to-head the Pistons were sufficient against the Lakers in the regular season. Detroit split two games with the Lakers, as each home team was victorious over a four-day span in mid-November. Shaquille O’Neal, who has become the “center” of attention in Detroit’s plan to stop the Lakers, averaged a modest (for Shaq) 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in those two games. It was early in the year, but at least Detroit can look back at those games as a model of containment of Shaq. Because containing Shaq is really all any team can hope to do.
The bulk of the task of controlling Shaq will fall on the Wallaces ” Ben and Rasheed. The Pistons defense is good, so good they managed to beat the Pacers averaging just 75.2 points per game on offense in the Eastern Conference finals. The Lakers have averaged 90 points a game in the playoffs, but the Pistons have made to the Finals based on the strength of their D, which only gave up 84.3 points per game in the regular season.
Any game in which the Lakers reach the century mark in points they will most likely win, especially considering Richard Hamilton led the Pistons in scoring in the regular season with only 17.6 points per game. But Hamilton has been the offensive catalyst in the playoffs, scoring over 20 points in every game, and the playoffs provide a stage where unlikely heroes are forged.
An important factor in Detroit’s favor is the enormous pressure on the Lakers to win. Just like the Yankees carry a huge burden on the baseball diamond that won’t allow for second place, the same burden falls on the Lakers this season. That expectation has been placed on the Lakers since the season started.
The know-how and experience of winning past championships helps, but it doesn’t guarantee (just like the Marlins proved last year). Shaq and Kobe Bryant won three straight titles from 2000-2002, but the 2004 team is different. Gary Payton and Karl Malone are guys that haven’t won it all and were on very good teams in their careers. That’s not to slight them; it’s just an interesting scenario when you think of them performing in pressure situations in this series.
On the benches, Larry Brown seeks revenge against Phil Jackson’s Lakers, who beat Brown’s Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 Finals in five games. Jackson has coached nine NBA champion teams, and this one would make it an incredible, record-breaking 10th (he currently shares the record with former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach).
But Brown is shooting for his own milestone. With a series win over the Lakers, Brown would become the first man to coach an NCAA champion and an NBA champion. The Pistons have every reason to be hungry.
Of course, the odds are stacked up against the Pistons, but there are a host of reasons why emotionally, statistically, or even historically (in all sports) the men from the Motor City can pull off a miracle.
The coolest thing of all is ESPN analyst Dick Vitale agrees. What’s a guy’s opinion who lives and breathes college basketball worth? Actually, Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons in the 1970s, baby!
Matt Brown is the sports editor for the Sierra Sun.
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