Friday, May 19, 2006

Hope is a Bad (Good) Thing.

I'll admit it: I'm scared.

LeBron - and what he is trying to do - scares the hell out of me. See, I was all set to watch LeBron make his playoff debut against the Wiz, tear 'em up, give us a handful of memorable moments, silence all doubters, etc. But that was it. That was as high as I let my hopes get.

Now, don't get me wrong. I wanted The LeBrons to win an NBA Championship with The Chosen One averaging a trip-doub the whole way there. But baby steps, right? First time in the playoffs, lets get our feet wet, play well, and win a hard-fought series before falling to the eventual champs. Considering the supporting cast around LeBron, it wasn't even remotely realistic to consider anything beyond that. And after Game One - and much of Game Two - it was all too obvious that the Pistons had a superior team. A sweep (maybe the Cavs steal one at the Q) seemed all too likely. But that's OK. First time in the playoffs, memories and moments galore, just ran into the better team. No shame in that this early in his career. I was content.

And then LeBron went and did this.

Three striaght wins. Against the best record in the NBA. Uh oh.

Still, throughout the not-a-chance-in-hell three-game run, I kept my doubts sky high. Hope was kept at a minimum. Remember what Red says to Andy the first time they discuss hope? "Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane."

And you know what? Red is absolutely right: hope is dangerous. And it wasn't about to drive me insane. Disbelief (and well...rational thought) trumped everything. Rationalizations were rampant. After Game Three, well, that was LeBron's one moment before the Pistons snapped out of it and realized who they were playing. After the Game Four win, well...Detroit is heading home - and when have they ever lost three in a row? Then, after the Mistro (Does Bron need another nickname? Probably not, but this one is to apt) conducted another masterpiece on Detroit's home court...hope started to eek its way in.

Which brings us to that whole "I'm scared outta my mind" thing. When nothing is invested, its easy to just sit back and watch. But now that something - everything - is on the line, that's scary. Plus, if I start hoping, won't that jinx everything? I mean, not hoping has gotten it to this point - why change now? Its like sitting in the same seat through all 47 minutes of a game, then sitting on the floor for the last minute. Why would you ever do that?

Still...things are looking pretty ideal for Cleveland, are they not? The game is in Cleveland, who's homecourt advantage has been second to no one's this postseason, if not the flat-out best (I always wanted to say "flat-out." I'm happy). Sheed is a little banged up, which gives the Pistons a minimal advantage in the post. Couple that with Detroit's guards not playing particularly inspired basketball right now...And LeBron is playing OK, too.

The last three games have raised an interesting question, and the answer to it decides who will win the series: has Cleveland won the last three games or have the Pistons lost them?

Cleveland could not have played any better the last three games. With LeBron being the constant, they have gotten step-up performances out of unexpected guys. Anderson Varajeo? Are you kidding me? A week ago, he couldn't have caught a golf ball with a first baseman's mitt, and now he's snagging dimes from LeBron and finishing in traffic. The LeBron/Varajeo pick and roll has been surprisingly effective. Actually, a pick and roll with anyone and LeBron is a good thing - Donyell Marshall pick and pop? Buckets.

That said, though...Detroit clearly isn't playing its best basketball right now. And it all starts with Chauncey Billups. He looks like he's trying to prove he can get a win and not try hard. Like playing all out is an admission that the Cavs are kinda good or something. If he give the Cavs his top effort, it shows that they are an equal, which I'm sure he feels they aren't (actually, I think all the Pistons feel this way; from Sheed on down they have been ridiculously dismissive of the Cavs so far). In Game Five, when Billups started asserting himself, the Pistons got back into it. If Billups wouldn't have fouled out...who knows what would have happened.

Which gives you the feeling that the Pistons have kinda lost this thing. Taking nothing away from the Cavs, if the Pistons play hard, and smart...they should win. But you know what? They haven't, and there really is no evidence that they will in Game Six either.

Like Andy said to Red, "hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies."

(Oh, who am I kidding? This series has been killing me for five games now. Game Six may give me a heart attack.)

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