Even though there are still two first-round series still going on, the second round starts tomorrow. Two matchups are set already.
Because we feel that no one understands the NBA more like the way we wish we understood the NBA than the gang at Free Darko, we've asked them to write up previews of every playoff series throughout the postseason. It will help us understand what's at stake in each series, what matters, what it means for the individuals involved, their fanbases and their history. And there will also be funny, bizarre, non-linear photographs.
After the jump, our the first of our two second-round previews today, the series between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls. Ben Wallace is the main storyline, but these are also two teams who swept their first series and look red-hot ... if you don't allot for that pesky layoff. If you want to hop in with your predictions in the comments, please do. Because we type about sports, and people expect it, our prediction is Bulls in 7.
And now, Dr. Lawyer IndianChief, from Free Darko, after the jump. Enjoy.
I ran into Andres Nocioni on the bus the other day. Of course, I asked him about his thoughts on the upcoming series with the Pistons, how he planned to guard Tayshaun Prince, whether he secretly loathed Carlos Delfino, if he had any insight into the general outcome of things. He told me he had just returned from visiting an ancient Argentine mystic harbored in the back room of the restaurant, El Nandu, on West Fullerton. Over empanadas and blood sausage, they evidently discussed the Bulls' chances in the second round, and — I'll have to paraphrase what Noch told me — the mystic explained that there were three challenges that the Bulls would face on their way to the finals, each of them instilling a new lesson.
THE CHAMPIONS: This first challenge has been overcome. Taking down Pat Riley and his 15 Hobbled was no small task. Obviously, the key step to becoming a champion is dethroning the previous champion, and the Bulls absolutely Randy-Moss-off-the-coast-of-Boca boat-raced the stumbling Heat. I haven't heard Shaq this subdued since his second verse on "Biological Didn't Bother."
THE TEAM: This challenge encapsulates the second round series, and the Bulls' current opponent, the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons are the consummate "team." Four of their five starters have been together since their 2004 championship, and the other one, Chris Webber, will sacrifice any personal gain to attain a ring.
THE INDIVIDUAL: The mystic predicts that LeBron James will advance to the conference finals, pitting the individual vs. the collective in a way that your bullshit Western Philosophy 101 Hobbes-vs.-Rousseau curriculum could only dream of. If the Bulls advance, they must face he that is greatness personified, which in essence constitutes every player facing the innermost potential in themselves.
Of course, even mentioning the Bulls even in the same paragraph as "Eastern Conference Finals" is premature. The Pistons are a legitimate title contender, and to save a lot of spirited long-winded dissection and histrionics, let me just say that I think Detroit will be able to win this series handily. Unfortunately, the truest cliché in sports is that the NBA playoffs are all about matchups, and this one clearly favors the Pistons. The two teams are virtually identical in form, yet different iterations of each other. Conceptually, the Pistons are the Bulls, except possessing extra limbs, stronger teeth and more attractive girlfriends.
Tayshaun Prince is a smarter, more defensively polished version of Luol Deng. Chauncey Billups is a more battle-tested, clutch-er version of Kirk Hinrich. Rip Hamilton is a more role-defined Ben Gordon. Rasheed Wallace is either a more versatile, sleeker P.J. Brown, or a wilier version of Andres Nocioni. And at the center position, the offensive craftiness of Chris Webber cancels out the defensive prowess of Ben Wallace. Chicago's bench may be deeper, but it still resembles a daycare center in comparison to old souls like Antonio McDyess, Dale Davis, and championship ring-owners such as Lindsey Hunter and Nazr Mohammed.
The only domain in which the Bulls hold a clear advantage is coaching. Not to overcook my favorite topic, but Flip Saunders is a playoff nightmare. Of his many postseason deficiencies, his tardiness in making adjustments is perhaps the direst. Skiles, on the other hand, as he proved last series — in outwitting the great Riles — is a master of adaptation. That said, with the Pistons, there is nothing really to adapt to — you know going in what their tactics and what their rotations are. It is thus up to Skiles to force a wrinkle into this series, as Saunders is poor at playing catch-up. I'm not sure what exactly such an innovation would entail: Out-athleticizing the elder Pistons by running up and down more? Giving Tyrus Thomas more burn simply to wreak havoc? Amputating, then bronzing the apparently anacondian arms of Thabo Sefolosha and hanging them from the United Center rafters to signify entitlement? I fear that the surprise will be there is no surprise. We may be in for simply six solid games of gritty, blue-collar workmanship.
Obviously, I am writing this on the heels of the Warriors' victory over the Mavericks, wondering if the playoffs are now sapped of any further emotional intrigue or astonishment. Chris Webber's search for redemption is a charming story, as is the Bulls' attempt to recapture Jordan-era glory. However, they are mere trinkets compared to what we just witnessed in Oakland. The Warriors' series has completely annihilated our capacity to FEEL: What would have been a noteworthy subplot of revenge — Ben Wallace attempting to disprove his old coach's knocks on his offensive game vs. Detroit attempting to prove they no longer need Wallace's services to win a championship — is completely overshadowed by the fact that Don Nelson just peed on the caviar of a billionaire who owes him over six million bills. The standards for intrigue for the 2007 playoffs have been raised. I can no longer simply watch good basketball — I want proof of existence. 'Sheed, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.