AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Arrogance and absurdity stand as the greatest hurdles in Detroit's pursuit of a sixth consecutive Eastern Conference finals, more than Philadelphia and Orlando.
The Pistons are forever fighting their inner screw-off, the group personality that allows them to do things like blow a 16-point Game 1 lead on Sunday to a Sixers team that had no business doing much of anything in this series. Detroit even did it with flair – Rasheed Wallace clowning around in the Philly huddle before a late-game possession and a bunch of players laughing between baskets with former teammate Flip Murray, who was eating nachos at the scorers' table.
It's the kind of suicidal performance that extends series, tires legs and courts disaster. The kind that makes Friday's Game 3 in Philly a likely snake pit, filled with playoff-starved fans energized with hope. A series that could have been a sweep may wind up going six or even seven games.
Efforts like Sunday's are the Pistons' fatal flaw; unless you count efforts like Wednesday.
Detroit whacked Philadelphia 105-88 in a game that wasn't that close to even the series. The Pistons jumped the Sixers early and often and, for the most part, never let up. At times it was a clinic in playoff basketball – a veteran, experienced 59-win team toying with a young sub .500 one.
Detroit hates it when things come easily, except when it comes easily. Then it thinks it will always come easily.
And it does.
Until it doesn't.
"To be a championship team you have to be able to play as the favorite," coach Flip Saunders said. "It's easy to play as the underdog or with your backs up against the wall. It's more difficult to do it the other way."
Or in Chauncey Billups parlance: "If it ain't rough, it ain't right."
None of the Pistons can explain why they like to make it rough. None have a solution. And for all the good coach-speak about how they want to avoid it, none of them sound all that convincing, probably because it keeps happening.
"It's been like that ever since I got here," said Antonio McDyess, who arrived in 2005. "We like it when our backs are against the wall."
Even in a series when they have no reason to think their backs should be against anything, they go out and drop a game or three and build the wall. In 2006, it was an unnecessarily taxing seven-game series against Cleveland that wore the Pistons down for a six-game conference finals loss to Miami. Last year it was letting Chicago extend them to six in the conference semis. Then they blew a 2-0 series lead to the Cavs, who stormed past them with four consecutive victories.
The Pistons' motto is "Goin' to Work," but mostly they just make work difficult.
"I don't like it, I don't think anyone likes it," Saunders said.
But they do it. Sunday they provided the definition of kicking away a game. Wednesday they came out and manhandled Philly, which has little hope when Detroit plays defense like that. Andre Igudola went scoreless into the third quarter (and finished with just four points) with Tayshaun Prince draped on him. The Sixers shot just 16.7 percent from behind the arc.
Detroit scored more points, grabbed more rebounds, blocked more shots, had more assists and shot 54.9 percent from the floor. It toyed with Philly for most of the game. There weren't enough old friends eating nachos to even make this one close.
"I told them, 'Let's not take any time off in 48 minutes,' " Saunders said.
Detroit should be sitting pretty, up 2-0, like the Boston Celtics, its presumptive opponent in the conference finals. The two clubs have stared each other down all season. But Boston has played with a sense of urgency to beat Atlanta twice.
The Pistons are going to need a lot of heart to sweep through a wild Wachovia Center this weekend. With a less than youthful starting five, why add minutes, add pressure and add fatigue courtesy of a long series while the Celtics are kicking back waiting for them?
"No question we've got to stop doing it (to ourselves)," McDyess said. "Other than the Boston series, we're going to be the favorite. We're just going to have to overcome it."
McDyess said that in an earnest way. His teammates echoed the sentiment. But soon enough Wallace was cranking the locker room music and pretty much everyone was laughing.
Philly was easy work Wednesday. They should be easy work everyday. Even with the giveaway game, the Pistons are unlikely to lose this series.
And they know it. And that's the problem.