MORE AGONY FOR DETROIT FANSAGAIN WE GO THROUGH THE WRINGER BECAUSE OUR TEAMS CAN’T SCOREMAGIC 99, PISTONS 84

OK, very funny. Now fess up. Who put the Red Wings’ ice under the Pistons’ floor? Honestly. Haven’t we suffered enough?

How else do you explain this sudden Detroit outbreak of “pointlessness”? Hockey team can’t score. Basketball team can’t shoot. Very funny. Now cut it out.

It’s Monday and our city remains 0-for-2003 in the playoffs. Citizens are calling out-of-town friends and saying, “No, really. Our teams are good. We’re not making it up!”

On Sunday, at the Palace, we watched the rims behave as if they were the posts behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere. They laughed at the Pistons. They teased the Pistons. And finally, they rejected the Pistons.

“What do you have to do differently to win?” someone asked Jon Barry, after Detroit clanked its way to a 99-94 loss in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs against Orlando.

“Make some shots,” Barry said.

That would be a start. The Pistons emerged like lions, then shot as if they had paws. Don’t be fooled by that 94 number. Almost half those points came from the foul line.

“Thank God for free throws,” Barry cracked, “or this thing wouldn’t have been close.”

How bad was it? Consider this: With four minutes left in the game, Chauncey Billups, possibly Detroit’s best offensive threat, had two baskets. Corliss Williamson had one. Mehmet Okur had one. Michael Curry had one. Barry had one. Ben Wallace had none.

And any Piston who had taken at least 10 shots had missed at least 10 shots.

And they’re the No. 1 seed!

The Magic’s man

And then there was this Irish guy, McGrady. Boy did he have a career day. What were the odds of that?

OK, so I’m role-playing a bit. Yes, the Pistons knew Tracy McGrady, arguably the best player in the NBA and certainly the Kobe Bryant of the East, was going to be a handful. But he was feet, arms and teeth as well. He had 43 points and made shots that left your tongue wagging.

He hit scissor-kick jumpers, dangling alley-oops, reverse lay-ups and three-point daggers. And he seemed to always come up with baskets to keep the Pistons at arm’s length.

“We have to do something about that,” Billups said. “They run every play through him, so it’s tough. He’s amazing. He’s a scoring machine.”

The Pistons, on the other hand, are a machine that sometimes scores. They have a sound defensive system and a share-the-ball philosophy, but the go-to mentality that dominates most superstar-led teams doesn’t exist here. On Sunday afternoon, they shared the ball — and the affliction that seemed to go with it.

Nobody could really shoot — especially in the first half, when the Pistons were, at progressive points, 2-for-14, then 4-for-23, then 7-for-32. Some shots clanked. Some rimmed in and out. Some missed everything.

And yet, despite all that, thanks to outstanding free throw shooting and a dogged spirit, the Pistons were within grabbing distance several times in the second half. Trailing by only two, 62-60, Billups had a chance to tie, but missed a 21-foot jumper. Trailing by only three, 94-91, Billups had a three-point shot to tie, but missed that, too.

“I felt if we had ever caught up or taken a one-point lead, the crowd and the energy would have carried us through,” Billups sighed.

Sound familiar?

It’s only one game

What is it with our playoff teams and early failure? The Red Wings even last year — when they wound up with the Stanley Cup — still put us through the paces, falling behind in their first round, their third round and their last round. This year, we endured their defeat rationalizations in standard order
— “It’s only one game” followed by “We’ve come back from 0-2 before” followed by “If any team can come back from 0-3 . . .” followed by “If only a goal here or there, we’d still be playing.”

Now the Pistons are explaining how, “If only a few key shots fell . . . “

Oh, for the days of dominance, when top-seeded teams actually BEAT the teams they were supposed to beat, when seeding meant something, when you didn’t expect a dogfight until the second or third round.

The Pistons are in a dogfight already. The Magic is a well-coached bunch, and McGrady isn’t going anywhere. He’s good at home, and Detroit will have to win in Orlando now to move on. It is impossible, by the way, if you work for the Pistons, not to look at McGrady’s one-man scoring skills and not say to yourself, “How do we get one of those?”

Well, LeBron James was in the building Sunday. But that’s a whole other story.

Meanwhile, if Pistons fans were looking for a silver lining, big Ben Wallace did return to action after six games gone with injury, and he looked all right, if not smooth or springy.

“How did your ankle hold up today?” an out-of-town reporter asked him in the locker room.

“My ankle was never a problem,” he said, “but my knee was fine.”

Ah, well. Given the aim of the team in the room, knees and ankles were easily confused. The Pistons can play better. They will play better. They need to relax and do what comes naturally to them, and I feel confident they will advance — just as I believe the Wings are still coming back to beat Anaheim.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.

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