Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic is in the books, and Detroit is now one game away from a sixth consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Amidst the action, which included a dramatic comeback from 15 down in the third quarter, Dwight Howard (the media-dubbed man-of-steel) played like Jell-O, jiggling under the expanded pressure of the playoffs. He went 3-for-12 from the field, scoring only 2 points in the final three quarters of the contest.
This in a game where any production from him may have been enough for Orlando to even the series at 2-2, with injured All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups on the bench for Detroit.
In response to what must surely be considered a very bad loss for the Magic, though not “devastating” as Stan Van Gundy very accurately pointed out, the young leaders of this squad had much to say.
Jameer Nelson guaranteed a win in Game 5. Rashard Lewis proclaimed the Magic to be the better team, and Dwight Howard lamented that the referees weren’t calling a fair game.
Now I’m not completely unfamiliar with these types of assertions, as I heard all three from the Pistons last year as they were floundering against Cleveland. 'Sheed guaranteeing wins, Chauncey claiming they were still the better team, and everybody crying that LeBron was getting all the calls.
Detroit, by the way, lost the last four games of that series playing very uninspired basketball.
So my point is this—once a team loses track of what responsibility it has for losing ball games and starts pointing the finger everywhere else, it has no chance to improve and dooms itself to losing. As the Pistons talked last year, so too are the Magic talking now.
It’s losing talk, and it will cost them in what I expect to be a very one-sided Game 5 contest in Detroit.
With or without Chauncey Billups.
Speaking of Chauncey, Detroit may now be in a position where it doesn’t have to play him, instead counting on an inexperienced Magic team to simply self-destruct in the hostile Palace of Auburn Hills.
If anything, Detroit proved in Game 4 that it can win without him, AND that at any given time Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Price give the Pistons the advantage up front. It’s clear that the defensive intensity of the Pistons, and their ability to throw many big bodies on Dwight Howard, has frustrated the emerging star.
Since Howard's game further than five feet from the basket is still a work in progress, and the playoffs are no time to be working on new skills, the Pistons are now in the enviable position of owning better all-around front-court and back-court play.
So the Pistons will motor on and chase a trophy. And the Magic will not put up OR shut up, and hopefully learn a valuable lesson for next year.
And with the Celtics series tightening up and both series tied 2-2 out West, Detroit may be able to rest the veterans and get Chauncey back in the mix.
So don’t take your eye off Detroit. They are nobody’s easy out, and are suddenly positioned (without fanfare once again) to take on all the pretenders.
Pistons churning toward another title.
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