We're looking at every NBA Playoff series through the eyes of both Free Darko and Basket Bawful. Here's Free Darko's look at the Cleveland Cavaliers-Washington Wizards series. Your author is Dr. LawyerIndianChief.
Forget the rings and the big gold hoop-and-roundball trophy. The Philadelphia 76ers have won the championship of hearts and nuts this year. In sports, the hardest thing to do is exceed expectations, and everybody on the team, from Mo Cheeks to Iguodala on down to Rodney Carney put in overtime this year to buck all the naysayers.
The Sixers were the NBA's biggest surprise this year, they were the only NBA team that legitimately didn't look like a bunch of wimp millionaires, and they kept their whole ethos so grindstone that they even made Allen Iverson look like he wanted to come back to town.
What I don't get is this: In the Eastern Conference, there are really only two elite teams, Boston and Detroit (I'll get to them in just a moment). Playoff spots six through eight are going to be wide open. So why did it look like everyone out East completely lost their mojo around Christmas (i.e. around the time that Boston started looking utterly invincible and Michael Beasley started averaging 25 and 15)? The Sixers were really the only team in the East to really buckle down and snatch from the sky what was not rightfully theirs. Everybody else started tanking (see Riley, Pat) or acted like they deserved a playoff spot just for showing up (I'm looking at you and shaking my head, Chicago).
The Sixers, for the majority of the year looked like — and I can't believe I'm saying this — a hardcore NCAA team fighting for their lives in the big tournament. Maybe that's because they were made up of greenhorns like Carney and Thaddeus Young and diamonds in the rough like Willie Green and Louis "who?" Williams. At any rate, the Sixers were my personal feel-good story of the year, which is why it's gonna hurt so badly when Detroit pummels them in about four games or so.
The Detroit Pistons, simply put, are built for this. Their core is more experienced than that of any other team. Their big four have been together since 2004, which is more than any other team can say. Rasheed is putting together his best season as a Piston. Chauncey Billups is the most clutch player in the playoffs this side of Bean Thousand. And most important, this group of players are so in sync with each other that the playoff-impaired Flip Saunders has finally become completely superfluous. In fact, screw it. I am picking them to win the whole darn thing.
For one, they are facing certified inferiors in both the first and second rounds (sorry Orlando or Toronto). Second, I strongly believe that they are the most qualified team in the league to beat the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series, simply because their defense can neutralize every one of Boston's big three, and that includes Kevin Garnett. As someone who has watched about 80 percent of the games that KG has played since 1996, I will be the first to inform you that KG's toughest man-to-man opponent is not Dwight Howard, not Karl Malone, and not Tim Duncan. It's 'Sheed. Straight truth. I'm not sure what the stats are to back this claim up, but there is something about 'Sheed's oblong body type that simply envelops KG on defense. Of course, you're not going to beat Boston just by stopping KG, or even just by stopping the Big three. But here is where I'll play the experience card, and say that I trust Detroit's four — and they trust each other — more than any lineup Boston can throw on the floor.
Now assuming that the Pistons get past the Celtics and into the finals, they are in certified John McCain territory. What that means is, while the other conference has been busy beating each other up for months just so some exhausted, beslogged party victor can emerge all tattered from the pack like Benji the Hunted, the Pistons will have been chilling out, resting up, and getting their legs beneath them.* Thus, Detroit will be in perfect shape to bring a surprise-we're-still-here!!!! smackdown on whichever team they face in the finals. Trust me, whoever makes it out of that tarantula-web in the West is going to be bruised and battered going into the finals.
Back to the series at hand, the Detroit Pistons are just playing in a different league altogether from Philadelphia. The Sixers will be a great story next year and hopefully the year after that (could someone please make it possible for them to obtain Ty Lawson?). Andre Iguodala will continue to improve, and aside from Boston, the Atlantic division should stay pretty weak for the next few years. But in 2008 it's Pistons all the way. Philly fans may just want to shake hands with each other, exchange pleasantries, and pat themselves on the back for a great season; but then look away, because this thing is about to get uuuuuuuuuuuuugly.