Friday, May 04, 2007

Just Like Old Times

Okay, so maybe it's not quite like old times. Ben Gordon can get as hot as any scorer around, and I love Luol Deng's all-around game, but they're not exactly MJ and Scottie yet. Plus, while Bulls' fans remain among the two or three smartest, most enthusiastic groups in the NBA (where else would fans cheer extra loud when Thabo Sefolosha is the first guard off the bench just because they believe he's a better third guard than Chris Duhon), the intensity has never been the same at the United Center as it was in the barn. Chicago Stadium was a hot, hazy shoe box of an arena, where you could feel the hot breath of the crowd bearing down on the Pistons at the height of their battles with the Bulls.

Come to think of it, while this iteration of the Pistons has accomplished a lot, they too don't quite measure up to their predecessors. Chauncey Billups is great, but he's no Zeke. Rip and Prince are dynamic, lack the steadiness of Joe Dumars and frightening explosiveness of the microwave. Rasheed, Chris Webber and McDyess are a formidable front court rotation, but they're not evil-incarnate like Lambeer, Rodman and James "I Look Like a Convict" Edwards. And no one on this era's Pistons can match the unique talents of an Adrian Dantley or Mark Aguire. But most of all, I never remember Pistons' fans in the 80s needing that asinine "Deeee-troit Basket-baaaaaaalll!" call to get them going.

Still, there is something reassuring about a Bulls-Pistons playoff series. Order has been restored to the NBA universe. So, while an insane work week has kept me from writing all week, I couldn't let this series begin without comment. Against Miami I was telling anyone who would listen that the Bulls were likely to win because they were simply a better team than Miami. After sitting in the stands with me for game 2, the official brother of the fan club even agreed with me. This is remarkable. He never believes anything I say (he's older, it goes with the territory). His affectionate nickname for me is Shithead. Plus, he's a Pistons' fan because he grew up with his mom outside Detroit.

Anyway, it's certainly not the case this time. The Bulls are definitely not a better team than the Pistons. Of course, the Pistons aren't a definitely better team than the Bulls either. In fact, I'd say the Bulls have been, by the slightest of margins, the better team this year. They've outscored opponents by 5.2 points per game, whereas the Pistons have only outscored the opposition by 4.2 points per game. Both team's finished strong. The Pistons upped their scoring margin to 5.8 points per game over the last quarter of the season. The Bulls were even hotter, beating opponents by 7.3 points per game over that stretch -- second best in basketball behind the Spurs.

So, the Bulls outscored opponents by a little more than the Pistons all year, and finished even hotter than Detroit. But not by enough. Because one area where the Pistons outpaced the Bulls slightly was wins: 52-49. And that means four of the next seven games will be in Detroit (and I do think there will be seven games). And that edge is more than the razor thin difference between the teams. So, as much as it pains me, I have to take the Pistons in seven. And this is one time I hope I'm wrong.


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