Thursday, May 19, 2005

Giving The Keys Back To Daddy

It's time for Pacers like Foster to come back to earth

Okay, Indiana Pacers and your fans, you had your fun with this Eastern Conference Semifinals series -- but now it's time to give it back to daddy and be on your way.

The Pacers took this best-of-seven series out for a joyride, forging a 2-1 lead, but then daddy -- that would be the Detroit Pistons -- came home and all the Pacers are now are grounded.

Most championship caliber teams run into a defining moment during a long playoff run -- a time when their backs are to the wall and there's no tomorrow and it's "must win" and all that rot. The Pistons have had their little wobbly moment, and now it's time to get back to the business of defending their world title. So, it'll be a Game 6 win tonight in Indy, and a much anticipated matchup with the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals.

The Heat, however, haven't had their defining moment yet. Miami swept two far inferior opponents -- the Nets and Wizards, teams they swept in the regular season, too -- and have been sunning themselves and enjoying the high life, waiting for the Pistons to do away with the Pacers.

But the Pistons will most likely head into the Conference Finals as underdogs, despite their status as reigning champs. It's a role they relish, and despite not having home court advantage, it will be the underdog mentality that will help them leap over the Heat in six games.

You know how it is -- the Heat, 8-0 in the playoffs and with a false sense of superiority, will be touted as this machine that is in high gear and has just been rolling over playoff foes. But the truth is, they haven't faced an opponent anywhere near the quality of the Pistons in this postseason, and all the rest and sun and relaxation in the world won't mean a hill of beans because the Pistons will be the ones in high gear.

The Heat didn't even make the playoffs last year. They haven't enjoyed much postseason success, period, in franchise history. The Pistons are battle tested, about to reach the Conference Finals for a third year in succession. They know what it takes to win a championship. They went into a hostile New Jersey arena in Game 6 of the conference semifinals last year down 3-2 after a bitter, three-OT loss in Game 5, and spanked the Nets in the fourth quarter on their own floor to force a seventh game, which the Pistons dominated. Their core has grown and matured together. They will hardly be intimidated by the Heat, despite playing the first two games in Miami and with "The Big Guy" -- Shaquille O'Neal -- in the middle. Don't forget, O'Neal also happened to be the center for the Lakers last season -- a team the Pistons "swept" in five games in the Finals. So forget the Shaq factor as a Heat advantage ("paging Elden Campbell....paging Elden Campbell").

O'Neal (left) and Wade: tough but not unbeatable

Don't get me wrong -- Pistons-Heat has the makings of a wonderful series, for players, fans and media alike. ESPN and ABC will love it, and I already can't wait for the hyperbole and other jibberish spewing from the mouths of Bill Walton and Company. Shaq and Dwyane Wade are to be reckoned with, no question, and the Pistons will have to be at the tippy-top of their game to turn down the Heat.

Enjoy it -- it should be a dandy. But the Pistons, with their playoff experience and mental toughness, should take it, 4-2. Shaq will watch the Palace go bonkers again as his team is eliminated -- again.

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