Thursday, April 13, 2006

Piston poundings

Am I the only one who is nervous about a possible second-round playoff matchup between the Cavaliers and Pistons?
Let's count our chicks before they're hatched for a minute. Let's assume the Cavs knock the Wizards out in the first round, and let's assume the Pistons snack on whatever appetizer happens to be waiting at the eighth seed.
It's not just the prospect of getting swept by the Pistons. It's not just the prospect of losing two or three games by 35 points or more.
I'm worried about what the Pistons would do to the Cavs physically.
Last night, Cavs fans had a collective stomach-lurch when we saw LeBron James emerge from a midair collision with Tayshaun Prince on the ground, writhing in pain, grabbing his ankle. It appears he just sprained it to the point where he might miss a game or two, but it could have been a lot worse (as if any Clevelander needed to be reminded).
Later, Alan Henderson walked to the locker room holding a dislocated finger.
Four games against the Pistons this year, a 1-3 record, and three injuries, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas' infamous bloody head.
Sure, those injuries could happen against any team, but when playing the Pistons, the odds of needing gauze and splints goes up.
The Pistons don't just beat you. They make you their bitch. They are, without a doubt, Ike Turner manifested in professional basketball. They play with a menacing physical presence rooted in sharp elbows, hard fouls, open-handed blows to the head and any other dirty trick they can get away with.
We make fun of the fact that Rasheed Wallace recently served a one-game suspension for accumulating 16 technical fouls this year. The Pistons know that is a valuable piece of psychological intimidation on their side. Would you go down low against a guy who isn't above throwing an elbow in your face, consequences be damned?
I want the Cavs to reach the second round. I want them to have the experience of playing a championship-caliber club like Detroit in the playoffs. But I want the Cavs to emerge in one piece. And, come playoff time, a team like Detroit is going to bring the pain. Rasheed and Ben Wallace won't admit it, but they know if LeBron is knocked out of the lineup, the diffculty of playing the Cavs in a seven-game series drops. With LeBron, the Cavs can can be as tenacious as crocodiles at feeding time. Without LeBron, the Cavs more closely resemble small lizards scurrying for cover when a rock is moved.
Think the Wallaces are above taking LeBron out with a flagrant foul? I don't.
Having LeBron or Z laid up until next spring with some grisly injury does the Cavs no favors. But blowing homecourt advantage and losing to the Wizards in the first round ends the season on a flat note.
In the long run, getting bounced by Detroit in the second round should fuel the Cavs' fire to get better. Hopefully, with the knowledge gained from a postseason body slam, Cavs GM Danny Ferry will attempt to increase the size and toughness of the team's frontcourt. In the long run, matching Detroit's frontcourt muscle is probably the only way to take them out in the playoffs. But the Cavs have to survive the early beatings first.
Every up-and-coming team has to take their medicine against the league powers before they can proceed on to title-worthiness. But, when playing the Pistons, "take your medicine" can become a literal thing. As in, laid up in a hospital bed.

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