Wrest and relaxation

Wrest and relaxation
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
May 17, 2007

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
Only the Detroit Pistons could be on the verge of a fifth consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals (the definition of sustained excellence) and at risk of becoming the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-0 series lead (the definition of futile inconsistency) at the exact same time.

And, of course, not be excited or worried about any of it.

Maybe they are just that laidback. Or maybe they are just arrogant. Or just ignorant of anything outside their locker room, their own doings.

The Pistons are fascinatingly myopic, a confounding carefree team. Nothing rattles them. Not good nor bad; not fearsome foe nor overmatched one. They are more likely to win on the road down 3-1 in a series, than at home up 3-0.

They have been the team to beat in the East for half a decade, even winning the NBA title in 2004, yet they are forever flirting with disaster of their own doing.

They were steamrolling through these playoffs, winners of their first seven games, including the first three against what looked like a helpless Chicago Bulls team by an average of 18 points only to lose the next two by an average of 15.5.

Now they face the surging, confident Bulls in Chicago on Thursday, clinging to a 3-2 lead in a series that should have ended last weekend.

Not that they care, of course. Not that – following Tuesday's 108-92 embarrassment – a single player called out his teammates, tore up the locker room in frustration or showed even the slightest bit of concern.

Instead, they just shrugged at their own foolishness and promised that when they eventually decide to stop screwing around, the series will be over and the Bulls will be finished.

"We've just got to get back to doing what we do."

"We just have to lock it in."

"We know we can win (in Chicago)."

"If we do what we do, we'll be fine."

Those quotes were all courtesy of Chauncey Billups, but they could have been from anyone on Detroit's roster. For better or for worse – and mostly it's been better – this is the Pistons.

It is never about the other team. It is always about them.

According to Detroit, the Bulls didn't improve their defense, have their young guards mature overnight or start running their pick and roll to perfection the last couple of games – three items that might mean the Pistons could actually blow this thing.

They'd prefer to declare themselves the controlling force – good or bad – in all situations and surmise that, as is their wont, they looked at a 3-0 lead and relaxed.

"It's fair to say that," Billups said after Tuesday's Game 5 loss. "I can't say that we did that intentionally, but I think it's human nature when (you) get that kind of lead, that kind of cushion, to let up a little.

"Our team is one team, as you guys know, that's not good with a cushion. Unfortunately, we've done this before time and time again."

They've been doing it ever since this core got together and started making deep playoff runs. They've done it under three different coaches – Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and now Flip Saunders. They've done it with one Wallace (Ben), two Wallaces (Ben and Rasheed) and now just one ('Sheed) against one (Ben).

Since 2003, they've faced at least two elimination games each year. They've gone down 3-2 three times and 3-1 once and prevailed each time. They routinely give away games – in their championship year they lost at home in each of the first three rounds. Until this year, this group had never swept an opponent.

They seem to love making the easy difficult and then the difficult easy.

Which is probably why Billups, even now, doesn't seem too concerned about the Bulls. He figures Detroit will win when it once again flips the switch. Maybe that is Thursday in Chicago. Maybe, if it has to be, it is next Monday, back home for Game 7.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, it'll happen, he's convinced of that. That's the mentality.

Billups sounded more worried about being drained for the conference finals, the way the Pistons were last year when they coughed up a 2-0 lead to Cleveland, fell behind 3-2 and had to storm back to survive. But then they were spent in losing the conference finals opener against Miami and never recovered.

"We had that (Cleveland) series pretty much in our favor, let them back into it and it became a very long series," Billups said. "And at the end of the day, I think that hurt us in the next series."

Not that the Heat get the credit. Of course, that's the arrogance, the myopia. That's the Pistons. That's the beauty and the beast. That's what either always gets them in trouble or almost always gets them out.

That's how they find themselves in Chicago, both excellence and ignominy somehow hanging in the balance, their breezy attitude sure to deliver one or the other.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Thursday, May 17, 2007 4:05 am, EDT

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