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So bad it's good

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – It would be mean to call this Eastern Conference finals ugly.

Let's just say it has a good personality.

This series is the NBA's version of "Extreme Makeover." The games have started ugly (Wednesday's Game 3 began with consecutive shot clock violations), can get gruesome in the middle (the teams shot a combined 6-for-29 from beyond the three-point arc) but in the end, something entertaining is produced (the outcome was in doubt until the final minute).

Whether or not this is good basketball is another story. Whether either the Indiana Pacers or Detroit Pistons, who lead the series 2-1 following Wednesday's 85-78 victory, are capable of beating Los Angeles in the NBA finals (presuming the Lakers come out of the West) is highly doubtful.

The argument is that all of this dreadful offense – Indiana didn't score 20 points in five consecutive quarters – is a result of some intensely stifling defense. But that is just part of it. Both of these teams' offenses spend a long time being truly offensive.

"Obviously they are very good on defense," said Reggie Miller, who is 7-of-24 for the series. "But a lot of guys on our team are missing wide open shots."

Through three quarters on Wednesday, Indiana had more fouls (18) than baskets (17).

It took 26 minutes for either team to hit a three-pointer.

There have been moments of comic relief. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle postgame looked at his team's 34.7 percent shooting on the stat sheet and deadpanned, "The field goal percentage certainly stands out." And Wednesday was Indiana's best shooting performance of the series.

Then there was the stretch in the first half when Detroit went 8:17 without scoring a basket. When a Richard Hamilton dunk ended it, Carlisle promptly called time out, presumably to stop the momentum.

If you think bad shooting equals uninteresting basketball you are entirely incorrect. Just consider the Pistons' second quarter: They had 10 turnovers and nine points. Generally this would be a recipe for instant defeat. But not when you are playing the Pacers, who are less offensive than Craig Sager's wardrobe.

Detroit not only survived that stretch, it actually took a six-point lead into the half.

"The big play of the game was the second quarter," Brown said. "We had 10 turnovers and nine points and held them to 16. That's pretty incredible."

Detroit is going to win this series because Indiana is simply awful offensively. Yeah sure, the Pacers got it going a bit late to make it a game, but no team in NBA history ever has represented its home state worse than this squad. Indiana has produced Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Jimmy Chitwood.

And in the only game the Pacers won in this series they shot 27.5 percent.

"It's very frustrating," Miller said.

At this point, there is almost nothing left to try (unless you believe in the Pollard Plan). Indiana is left waiting for the stars to align.

"We have too many good shooters not to make shots," reasoned Jermaine O'Neal.

You'd think. The Pacers got here due to their spurtability. In Round One against Boston Indiana had runs of 30-8, 24-4, 32-10 and 33-9. Which begs the question: How stinkin' bad are the Celtics?

The real question for basketball fans is: What is the relevance of this entire pursuit? Can either of these teams actually beat the Lakers?

Or is this like watching college basketball where it's all well and good when the kids from, say, Vermont, win their league tournament and storm the court in celebration of making the NCAA's, but you know Duke is going wax them by 50 soon enough.

Is the East the Patriot League of the NBA?

Maybe, and maybe not. First off, L.A. is going to be overconfident. Kobe has no scheduled court dates. Then maybe Detroit's stifling, clutch-and-grab defense will work against the Lakers. And maybe getting a little breathing room against a Western Conference-style defense will open up the Pistons' offensive floodgates.

Maybe an offense based on a nice weather report – highs in the mid-70's – is just the way to grind out a historic upset.

Maybe L.A. is in a lot of trouble.

Yeah, I know, that's funny. Stop laughing.

I warned you the Eastern Conference had a good personality.

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