We're looking at every NBA Playoff series through the eyes of both Free Darko. Here's Free Darko's look at the Cleveland Cavaliers-Washington Wizards series. Your author is Dr. Lawyer IndianChief.
Aaaaand (wiping the sweat off my brow), my pick to win the finals win the finals is still intact.
That was a close one. The Pistons nearly sleepwalked their way through their third playoffs in a row, the 76ers played with more guts than anyone else has shown all season, and in this topsy-turvy sports world of the Giants beating the Patriots and the Colorado Rockies playing in a World Series, "anything" almost happened. But then the Pistons became the Pistons began and made millions of Detroit citizens want to strangle a lamppost, with frustrations of, "WHY THE HELL CAN'T YOU GUYS ALWAYS PLAY LIKE THIS??"
An additional critical event occurred, though, which I must acknowledge. Flip Saunders actually made some adjustments — perhaps only inadvertently, but after ripping him in the past, I have to give the guy some credit. For one, after McDyess' schnoz got busted, Jason Maxiell was inserted into the starting lineup to great effect. They might as well leave him in there as it takes tremendous pressure of McDyess to be the presence in the middle that Ben Wallace represented a few years ago. Saunders also played the young guys Aaron Afflalo, Amir Johnson and Rodney Stuckey, and not only in the midst of blowouts.
I found that a surprising and nifty move given that (a) it goes completely against the Larry Brown ethos of relying on minimal rotations and playoff-tested vets (b) this postseason is teaching us that we are exiting the Shaq/Jason Kidd epoch into a new era of speed and youth (see Chris Paul, Josh Childress, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Thaddeus Young, Brandon Bass, etc.). The Pistons will need youthful vigor to survive the road ahead.
So, yeah, maybe Saunders has learned a thing or two about coaching, but when it comes down to it, the Pistons are really only as good as their Brahma of Hamilton, Prince, Billups, and Sheed. And as ostensible Pistons insider, Chris Webber, stated last week on Inside the NBA, when it comes down to it, the Pistons ultimately do not follow in Flip's footsteps, but rather they take the character of team president Joe Dumars. Note the key term there: character. It's a vague all-encompassing term that has to do with mettle and respect and toughness, but whatever it means, it's what these playoffs are all about, and what they have been about since the dissolution of the Kobe/Shaq dynasty. For all the crap I talk about the Spurs, they are the ultimate character team, having won two of the last three titles simply off of integrity. When the Mavs went up 2-0 on the Heat two years ago, character prevailed and a scrappy Dwyane Wade floorburned his way to the championship. When Golden State beat Dallas in the first round last year, the Warriors had character oozing out of their pores.
And in the match-up of character, Orlando doesn't stand a chance to Detroit. Talent, now that's a whole different story. No doubt the Magic have in Dwight Howard the most talented player in the series, and probably a top 3 player of the remaining playoff teams (just behind Kobe and Chris Paul). This is not to mention that both Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu may be better pure scorers than anyone on the Detroit squad. However, there's something just a little too synthetic about the Magic's game. They seem like a bunch of guys who just fell off some alien tree; aside from Jameer Nelson I can't imagine any of them having played in college. They're too neon; I could never see them photographed in sepia tones. The Pistons on the other hand, are a team full of bearded, masked, future politicians — guys who play like they're mentally 65 years old.
So in the end, it's like comparing Brad Pitt to James Dean. Scientology to Taoism. Cheetos to Bavarian Pretzels. Converse to BAPEs. And so I'm rolling with what I know, which is Detroit, all earth and blood of them. The Magic will get their day once they add some depth and consistent PG play, but I think that Detroit in the first round received their scariest and last wake up call, and now they're ready to go. The theme of this playoffs has been windows. Windows are opening for the Hornets, Sixers and Hawks for future success. On the flip, windows are slamming shut for the Mavericks, the Nuggets, the Suns, and sheeeit, maybe even the Celtics. And when it comes to Detroit, this is the moment of truth. Either play hard, with no lapses toward coasting, or else fingers are getting smashed. Louis Williams already showed you his fangs. Julian Wright wants to taste bone marrow. And Joe Johnson, well he might as well be the Unabomber. This is a different era. As Shaq and Kidd become dust to dust, the young-uns are realizing that their time is now, so be wary Detroit; this is your last chance.