THE NOSE KNOWS HOW TOUGH IT IS FOR ‘DYESS

Break your nose. Right now. Go on. Break it. Then fly 500 miles and have it reset. Surgically, by the way. None of that cup-your-hands-and-snap-it-back stuff, OK? Now come out of anesthesia, get on a plane and fly 500 miles back.

You with me so far?

Good. Now comes the hard part. Put on a plastic mask, tie it around your head and go out to play an NBA playoff game.

Now the really hard part.

Watch your team stink up the joint.

Do all that, and you’ll be in the same frame of mind as Antonio McDyess when he entered the halftime locker room Sunday in Philadelphia.

He was stuffed-up, puffed-up and fed-up.

So he spoke up.

Dice gave a halftime speech?

“It wasn’t a speech,” he said Monday, almost embarrassed. “It was basically the truth. I just told them it looked like we were the team that was the seventh seed and they looked like the two seed. I just let them know we were way better than this. … Why are we playing like we’re scared? We didn’t play all this way and go this long to give it up right now.

“I guess everyone kind of heard me.”

Uh, yeah. The Pistons emerged, had their best quarter of the playoffs, turned a 10-point deficit into a nine-point win and tied the series. The strong, silent type

Now, there are several remarkable things about what you just read. First, it’s amazing McDyess’ speech didn’t come out this way:

“Buht bhmda uhd puhd du?”

Do you know how impossible it is to do anything with a freshly broken nose? As someone who has had it happen several times, I can tell you, all you want to do is groan. Your head hurts. Your eyes hurt. Your cheekbones hurt. You’re breathing like a fish.

If someone yells, you want to shush them. If someone gets too close, you want to push them away. Your nose nerves are acute. It’s like you’re foggy and hyper-sensitive at the same time, as if someone drugged you, inserted dice behind your eyes and started shaking you. The last thing you want to do is jump around.

Check that. The last thing you want to do is jump around and still be trailing by 10 points.

Which brings us to the second-most remarkable part of McDyess’ speech: That he was the one making it.

“Normally, I don’t speak at all,” he admitted. “I let all the captains and everyone say something. But I felt it was time for someone to say something. … I mean, the last couple of games we came in the locker room and didn’t say nothing to each other at all. Just sat down and didn’t say a word.” Longing for that ring

The word has been spoken. And from a most unlikely place – a guy who spent most of Saturday having his proboscis probed.

“I’ve broken it four times,” McDyess recounted. “This time, I was just happy the doctor put me out, and I didn’t have to sit up and hear it and watch it. It’s gross. It’s nasty. … Someone’s up your nose trying to put it back in place and you hear cracking and stuff. … It’s disgusting.”

No wonder McDyess had no stomach left for Detroit’s turnovers and missed easy shots. There’s disgusting and then there’s disgusting.

Besides, McDyess, 33, has reason to be impatient. People forget that, while he is one of the oldest guys on the team, he still does not have a ring. Rasheed does. Chauncey does. Rip and Tayshaun do. Lindsey Hunter does.

McDyess got here just after the Pistons’ glory run in 2004. He has been banking on a return ever since. And so he will do anything. Play through pain. Fly to have his nose reset. Even wear a plastic mask – something he hates. It’s hot. It’s constraining. Unlike Rip Hamilton (who I think sells one every night on eBay), McDyess threw out the last masks he had and can’t wait to get rid of this one.

But only as a champion. He has heard the rumblings, that if this Pistons team gets tripped up, maybe it’s time to make changes, reload.

“I know that,” he said, “but I feel like we still got a chance.”

He is one of the good guys, a gentleman, a terrific teammate and a man who has overcome all sorts of physical setbacks. So if there ever was internal motivation for the Pistons in Game 5 tonight, it’s McDyess, their stuffed-up center. Two more victories. One for each nostril.

After all, it’s one thing to break a nose.

It’s another to break a heart.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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