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Stuck in gear

Pistons lacking Spurs-like ability to crank it up a notch

Posted: Friday June 1, 2007 3:45PM; Updated: Friday June 1, 2007 5:57PM
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Chauncey Billups and the Pistons have been inconsistent in the playoffs -- just as they were during the regular season.
Chauncey Billups and the Pistons have been inconsistent in the playoffs -- just as they were during the regular season.

Also in this column:
Lottery a hot topic at league meeting
Kerr will be tested as Phoenix GM

OK, when am I going to learn to stop comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan? In the big picture he's the new Jordan, as demonstrated by the final 25 points he posted for the Cavaliers in the biggest game of his young life Thursday.

But the Jordan timetable no longer applies. I figured it was naïve and almost blasphemous to think that James could reach the NBA Finals in what should be his senior year of college when it took Jordan seven troubled years to go that far. Wrong. It's a different league with different rules, and the East is adrift without hierarchy. While the Pistons were the class of the conference this year, they were never dominant. In fact, they were as inconsistent all year as they have been throughout these playoffs.

I'm going to be careful about prematurely rubbing out the Pistons, because for all of their inattentiveness and LeBron's extraordinariness, Detroit still had a chance to win Game 5.

As obvious as it is that James is the new be-all/end-all, it's just as obvious what the Pistons aren't. They are not San Antonio. While the Spurs have a killer instinct and seek the highest level of play in the biggest games, the Pistons are more likely to do whatever they need to do to get by and leave it at that. The excuse that the Pistons are bored after contending for so long loses its steam when you realize that Tim Duncan has been at this longer than anyone from Detroit.

Would Gregg Popovich ever allow his Spurs to yield 29 of Cleveland's last 30 points to James in the swing game of the playoffs? The Spurs were scorched by Amaré Stoudemire two years ago and by Deron Williams in the last round, but neither scorer was permitted to single-handedly win the crucial game as James did Thursday.

Here's the other thing free-agent-to-be Chauncey Billups and his teammates know full well: Team president Joe Dumars isn't going to stick blindly with this roster if he doesn't think it can win championships. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. See how it plays out this weekend before writing off the Pistons, who have recovered from these predicaments before.

Stern open to suggestions on lottery

The NBA held one of its longest and most important competition committee meetings in years Tuesday in Orlando before the pre-draft camp. The meeting ran more than four hours and was chaired by commissioner David Stern, with 29 of the 30 teams in attendance. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford took a red-eye from the Western Conference finals in Salt Lake City to participate.

According to people who were there, the big issues were the alleged tanking of regular-season games, the mess created by last week's lottery and the rule prohibiting players from leaving the bench during on-court altercations that resulted in the suspensions of the Suns' Stoudemire and Boris Diaw during the West semifinals.

Stern admitted the league has created a perception that the worst teams have been losing on purpose over the second half of the season in hope of improving their position in the lottery. He said the fans don't like it, and he added that he was open to suggestion on how to redress the perception.

There are suspicions among some league executives and coaches that Stern rigs the results of the lottery -- in this case to punish the three worst teams (Memphis, Boston and Milwaukee, who came out of the lottery Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in the draft) for contributing to the perception of late-season tanking. To deal with the conspiracy theories, the league spelled out during the committee meeting how the lottery machine works and how it would be practically impossible to fix the outcome. (I've been in the closed room during the lottery, and the NBA mechanism is a lot like the Powerball or other lottery machines that you see on television.)


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