The NBA's Eastern Conference Finals begin tonight, if you can muster up the energy to watch.
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 conference final preview, the series between the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Neither team has been especially impressive making its way here, but someone has to win, theoretically, anyway. Last year, LeBron made this a series by himself; he seems less inspired this year. 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 Pistons in 5.
And now, Bethlehem Shoals , from Free Darko, after the jump. Enjoy.
So far, it's been a disappointing postseason for the sport's golden child, but that doesn't mean we need to be reminded about LeBron James. He's been the same thing this past month that he was in the preceding six: the man with his finger on the button, the high-priced boogeyman who could, in theory, bring about the end of all known civilization. Sadly, watching the NBA lives and dies with his whim, and eventually we all must come to terms with this condition.
On a day-to-day basis, however, it's pretty easy to forget that this is how things are. LeBron has let us down time after time this season, so we might as well cut our losses and craft our contingency plan. I refuse to let LBJ hold me hostage a second longer. To counteract the misery that these playoffs have become, I propose we all do something proactive and learn to love the Detroit Pistons. Note: I would've written this same piece about the Jazz. But they're out of their depth and no one likes Mormons, Jerry Sloan, dominant point guards or hot international wives.
The Pistons aren't the Spurs. While authorities on the Spurs are always fighting an uphill battle, trying to convince us either that the obvious is enough or that everything we know is wrong, people want to like the Pistons. I would like nothing more than to like the Pistons, which seem so utterly likable. No team in pro basketball makes "veteran grit" seem as cool as those Pistons do. Rip and Chauncey are a backcourt that knows the value of swagger, but also make no secret of their codependency. Anyone who hasn't at one point worshipped Sheed probably hasn't read this far into an NBA-related piece of writing. And while you can clown Chris "Loser and Tyra Fucker" Webber all you want, his redemption is this postseason's narrative secret weapon.
There are even a few D-Town adventurers I like watching on the court. Question: if Shawn Marion and Josh Howard are the closest this year's All-Star game had to cult figures, why can't Tayshaun Prince get a little more love? Or how about "Reggie Miller had highlights, so why not Rip Hamilton?" Billups manifests authority in a way that no Spur ever could. If you're not up on Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson, you have no business telling me that the NBA sucks. Rasheed Wallace was ahead of his time, which is the only he's been branded a big man afraid to play like he should. Surely, the sum total of that can equal one barely-activated LBJ?
Unfortunately, the way it all comes together is solid murk. I get that the Pistons aren't always engaged in low-scoring slugfests, and that supposedly Flip's meant more offensive freedom. But as a casual observer, I still can't watch them. Isolated acts of Detroit team flow are notable, and yet as a whole it inflicts upon me a Spurs-like numbing. However, this only strengthens my resolve. Anyone can hate the Spurs, anyone can find the LeBron-ian diamond in the Cavs' perpetual rough, and apparently no one gets how rad the Jazz are. So when the Pistons/Spurs Finals rolls around, I plan to have full reason to watch at least a quarter of every game.
From a pure basketball standpoint, we already saw in 2006 how this series goes. The Pistons, whose occasional grogginess is almost endearing, will let up just enough for LeBron to get some leverage. They will play him hard, but make the near-fatal mistake of forgetting his extra gear. This season, the Cavs have a healthy Larry Hughes and that rascal Sasha Pavlovic, who have somehow made them worse in the playoffs. The Pistons are also getting a tad bit weary of the LeBron-athon, especially given then lack of vitality he's displayed thus far. James will make a dent in the Pistons, and we'll all wonder if playing dead isn't becoming some new tactical ploy, maybe even further evidence of his genius.
So here's what we'll get: Pistons in six, with one of those wins going OT. And if we get suckered into waiting on LeBron, we'll miss the only chance there is to make the Finals bearable. Get on the Detroit bandwagon now, or else the round that matters most of all might as well not even exist.