by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Bill Plaschke writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Their leading scorer goes to work in the ideal accessory of all unfortunates who wear the name “Pistons” on their shirt.

A mask.

Their leading rebounder’s unkempt hair has not been cut since the last time his team made a scoreboard sweat.

About five years, he says.

The only bit of greatness in their locker room is the engraving upon the one and only championship ring there.

Lakers, it reads.

Mitch, the Detroit basketball team is a nice little outfit in the manner that a piston is a nice little engine part.

Best held with dirty fingernails, mostly understood from beneath a hood, unwatchable and ultimately invisible.

Sitting in the white leather bucket seat that is Los Angeles, one hears only the engine.

For the next couple of weeks, Mitch, that roar will be coming from the Lakers, a tempestuous and occasionally tolerable group that nonetheless understands a field goal is not to be kicked, and a bucket is not for bloody spit.

The Lakers play 48 minutes of the highest level of H-O-R-S-E; the Pistons imitate one.

The Lakers sink treys while the Pistons, with a loud and messy clatter, drop them on their sneakers.

The Lakers are nothing but net, the Pistons net but nothing.

In this little playground tiff to decide the NBA championship, the Lakers will be shirts, and the Pistons will be skinned, and if you don’t believe me, then believe the wide eyes of Karl Malone.

He is describing the Pistons’ East-clinching victory over the Indiana Pacers, a game in which the victors scored all of 27 points in the first half.

“Um, you know, you score that many in the West, you’re already down by 30,” he says.

The series will last six games, but only because the Lakers realize the importance of clinching at home, where they can spray champagne and blow kisses and declare mutual love without having to actually sit next to each other on a bus.

Besides, they will get bored in Detroit and lose at least one game there, perhaps lulled to sleep by Motown’s newest tribute to the Pistons, “Ain’t No Basket Low Enough.”

Not that these things are ever battles between cities, no matter how many Botox-phobic Detroit scribes try to convince you otherwise.

This is, instead, a battle between those on the floor, or, in the Pistons’ case, in the Palace, as their Auburn Hills garage is so optimistically called.

(As a longtime Eminem fan — I prefer plain over peanuts — I’m wondering: Is the gym located inside or outside of Eight Mile? Is that the name of a Detroit movie, or the distance one can safely jog between Pistons points?)

The series’ most valuable player? Energized by the end of his longest season, Kobe Bryant will throw down 30 points a game, inspiring a Detroit author and occasional columnist into reworking his best-selling book to feature the Lakers.

The five people you only beat in heaven.

The most valuable coach? It will be Phil Jackson, who looks like a weathered hood ornament and walks like a Detroit winter, but who has become pure L.A., from his sandals to his shrugs to his ability to steer through midnight traffic.

Larry Brown couldn’t beat him three years ago with The Answer, and he’s not going to beat him today with Five Questions. Not after Jackson has survived eight months of distractions ranging from jurisprudence to jealousies to Je m’appelle Tony Parker.

This brings us to the matchups, all of which can be summed up in one question, and it has nothing to do with comparing our Jack Nicholson to their, their . . . are Pistons games attended by any celebrities not named after minivans?

Anyway, the question.

Who’s guarding Shaq?

Can’t be Ben Wallace. Cut his hair and he’s no bigger than Ben Stiller.

Can’t be Rasheed Wallace. If his last playoff visit to Staples Center is any indication, he will be called for two quick fouls, then two quick technical fouls, after which he’ll curse the fans, strip off his shirt, flex his tattoos, make bystanders a tad ill, then stalk off into summer.

The Pistons’ best weapon is defense, but the Lakers combined to shoot 47 percent in their two meetings this season.

The Pistons love to rebound, but O’Neal outrebounded Ben Wallace by five in those same two meetings.

The Pistons’ best scoring chance here is an inconsistent guy, first name of Chauncey, who has hit four of his last 20 shots and whose last name sounds like a turnover. “In losing the ball eight times in the backcourt, the unfortunate chap suffered a bad case of the Billups.”

The Pistons like to wear down opponents mentally. But it is the Pistons, with only former Laker Lindsey Hunter having championship experience, that are worn down.

It is the Pistons who are knocking first, then stepping wide-eyed and twitchy into that harshly lit Finals room the Lakers call home.

The Pistons celebrated their conference championship this week as if it were the real thing, dancing and hollering and hugging.

The Lakers celebrated their conference championship without their two largest men or their coach, all of whom had walked off the floor early because they were like, dude, why are they giving us anything?

“I looked at it later and it was like, silver,” says Malone, picking the word out of his teeth like it was a piece of gristle. “I thought we were trying to win something gold.”

They are. They will. And Lakers fans everywhere will savor the memory by hanging the latest championship photo in their garages, er, Palaces. Contact BILL PLASCHKE at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.To read more columns by him, go to www.latimes.com/plaschke.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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