Friday, May 19, 2006

Big-headed Bad Boys

There's a difference between being great, and believing you're great. The people and teams that truly are great never get caught up in the latter.
The Detroit Pistons, on the other hand, have taken the bait, hook, line and sinker. They so thoroughly believe the hype of their own greatness, they think nothing of belittling their opponents to the media. They truly believe they are so good, that when Rasheed Wallace refers to a Cavs' win my saying "even the Sun shines on a dog's ass," it won't come back to bite them.
The Pistons need to be humbled. They have forgotten how they got to where they are.
When the Pistons were busy winning a title in 2004 and reaching the NBA Finals last year, they were nose-to-the-grindstone workers. They worked hard every night, treating each possession with care and valuing team above all else. Credit estranged coach Larry Brown for a lot of that.
This season, with a good but far less accomplished coach in Flip Saunders, the Pistons rocketed to a 32-5 start and locked themselves in an ivory tower. They won games by just showing up. They became lax, arrogant and nonchalant.
And now, trailing 3-2 to the Cavaliers and on the verge of a humiliating collapse, the Pistons are going to do one of two things: realize that they are not a team of stars, and need to get back to the humble, nuts-and-bolts style of play that has served them so well in the past. Or they are going to confirm what can already be reasonably suspected: they are going to show their true colors as a team that has forgotten how to overachieve.
The Pistons are not a great team. They aren't talented enough to be a great team. They are a good team that, when prepared, executes half-court basketball at both ends of the floor like few other NBA clubs.
That has been the difference for the Pistons these past few years. Not a chasm-like talent gap that they apparently believe they have over the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Chauncey Billups recently stated a belief that the Pistons' starting five is among the greatest in NBA history. Uh, sorry, Chauncey. Thanks in large part to LeBron James, Detroit's starting five isn't even the best in this series.
The Pistons do not have a LeBron or Kobe Bryant, a game-changing superstar. They don't have that one player who can pull their fat out of the fire with the game on the line. Teams like that need to be that much more disciplined in their execution because the room for error is less.
Unlike a lot of the national media, I am going to give the Cavs credit for altering this series. Most national basketball pundits peg this entire swoon on Detroit's lack of execution. I'll say the Cavs have ramped up their defense considerably and made life much tougher on the Pistons.
But the Pistons have not been prepared for the onslaught. They seem genuinely shocked that the Cavs have been able to put up this kind of a fight. That goes back to overconfidence.
Detroit realized how hard it is to get to the top. What they have not realized is how much work is needed to stay there.
One of the few NBA teams that could be excused for overconfidence -- the Bulls of the late '90s -- never let success go to their head. If trumpets were blaring upon their arrival at a visiting arena, they never heard them. They were too busy preparing to the nth degree for the game. Michael Jordan made sure of it.
Each series was a challenge, not a coronation, for Jordan's Bulls. And those teams headed to the arena every night knowing they had the greatest player in history coming with them.
The Pistons apparently advanced to the second round expecting a red carpet, rose petals and a submissive opponent. They are getting a lesson in humility instead.
Even if you are a Detroit fan, you might have to think that an early exit is just what the doctor ordered.

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