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  Sat, May 22, 2004


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East showdown has it all

The best coaches will tell you it's never about coaches. The Eastern Conference final will be decided by players.

On one side you have Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and the rest of the Detroit Pistons. On the other side you have Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest, Reggie Miller and the rest of the Indiana Pacers. Those are the men who ultimately will determine the outcome.

"I guess this is what everybody wanted," Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said of the much-anticipated Detroit-Indiana showdown.

But, players aside, there's no denying the most intriguing storyline involves the screaming guys in suits.

It's not that Larry Brown of the Pistons or Rick Carlisle of the Pacers are hated personal rivals, spitting insults at each other like John Tortorella of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ken Hitchcock of the Philadelphia Flyers. But the circumstances that brought Brown and Carlisle to their current positions are inextricably linked, whether the principals like it or not.

Carlisle was fired last summer as coach of the Pistons following back-to-back 50-win seasons. Mathematically that seemed ludicrous, but Carlisle was let go for many of the same reasons his best friend, Kevin O'Neill, recently was fired as coach of the Raptors: A boring style of play and disastrous people skills.

Brown, meanwhile, had endured six seasons as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers and had grown weary of hearing Allen Iverson say the word "practice" as if it had four letters. The firing of Carlisle by the Pistons, the resignation of Brown from the Sixers and the hiring of Brown by the Pistons occurred virtually simultaneously. Whether the Pistons would have had the guts to fire Carlisle had someone of Brown's stature not been available remains to be seen.

A few months later, the Pacers took a lesson from the Pistons' book, dismissing a coach who arguably didn't deserve it (Isiah Thomas) and installing Carlisle, a former Pacers assistant who many believed should have been awarded the top job instead of Thomas in 2000.

This already is confusing enough, so we won't even get into the tale of Brown coaching the Pacers from 1993 to 1997. Suffice to say that ever since the game of coaching musical chairs last summer, everything has pointed toward this marquee playoff clash, which begins tonight in Indianapolis.

"I think we're talking about two teams that can win the whole thing, so it's going to be furious," Billups said. "It's a great matchup, us and Indiana. It's what the fans in both cities want to see."

We trust Billups is aware that Indiana is a state, not a city. Regardless, the only geography that will matter is finding a spot on the court to take an open shot.

With these two teams, defence will rule. That doesn't necessarily mean it will be boring, but if you like lots of scoring, you might want to watch a porno video instead.

The Pacers have been underrated throughout this season despite winning an NBA-best 61 games. They have a future league MVP in O'Neal and the reigning defensive player of the year in Artest, but people seem to be expecting a fall.

The Pistons purportedly have been the team to beat in the East since acquiring the multi-talented Rasheed Wallace, but they were markedly inconsistent in Round 2. When the Pistons turn up the "D" they're intimidating, but they still found a way to lose three games in a row to a New Jersey Nets club that was not exactly firing on all cylinders.

For the past few months, our gut feeling has been that the Pistons will win the conference. We'll stick with that, despite nagging suspicions that the Pacers are better than we think.

Detroit in six.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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