TV TIME-OUT TOO MUCH FOR PISTONS

Tayshaun Prince got married. Bought a house. Had a baby. Chauncey Billups opened a mortgage company, made a fortune. Ben Wallace, bored with the same two haircuts, tried shaving his head, didn’t like it and let it all grow back. It’s an Afro again.

At least that’s what I heard. It’s been so long since the Pistons played, some of those stories may have changed by now.

“How long does this break feel?” I asked Billups at the Pistons’ practice facility Thursday, during the lull between Game 1 and Game 2, or as it’s more scientifically referred to, “the Ice Age.”

“Ahhhhhh man,” Billups began.

Exactly. You ask any Piston about the insane time off between these second-round playoff performances and, to a man, they make funny sounds. “Whoooeeee.” Or “Geeeeesh.” Or “Arrrgghh!”

This is what television has wrought. A playoff series that puts four days between Game 1 and Game 2 — and doesn’t even change cities! What? The cameramen need to rest? This comes after another four-days-with-no-game break between the Pistons’ clincher against Milwaukee and their first game against New Jersey.

So let’s see. The Pistons have been home for nine full days. They’ve played about five hours of basketball.

It’s a good job, isn’t it?

“To fill the void,” a TV reporter asked Ben Wallace, “are you going to watch the last episode of ‘Friends’ tonight?”

“Uh, probably not,” Wallace said.

“Why not?”

“I didn’t know it was the last episode.”

“Don’t you have a favorite ‘friend’?”

“Um, yeah. I have a favorite friend. But it’s not a favorite ‘friend’ friend, you know?”

This is what our job has come to.

Slow pace for Pacers, too

“How long does this break feel?” I asked Lindsey Hunter, who, I believe, opened a chain of car washes during the hiatus.

Lindsey grimaced. “It’s . . . awwwwww.”

What’d I tell you?

“It feels like we’ve been off for weeks,” Hunter continued. “I’ve seen my wife and kids every night. I brought home one of those muscle stimulator machines and put it on my knees and just did nothing.”

Just did nothing?

Sounds like playoffs to me.

Wait. News flash: Rip Hamilton joined the Marines. He should be back in time for tip-off.

Look. All this ridiculous scheduling — and if you think the Pistons have it bad, check out Indiana, which until Thursday night hadn’t played a game in 11 days — is simply a way for TV to get more games on during the times it wants them on.

Eleven days? And people were worried that Kobe Bryant’s court appearances might conflict with the Lakers’ playoff games? Ha. They could start and finish a trial and he might not miss a dribble.

“How long does this break feel?” I asked Wallace, after the TV crew ran off to tell Chandler and Monica that Big Ben didn’t care about any of them.

“It feels like the last two or three days of training camp,” he said. “You know, when you’re just beating up on each other because you’re anxious to get out and play somebody else?”

By the way, did you hear about Memo Okur? He speaks perfect English now. Yeah. He’s teaching junior high in Hamtramck.

Forget about momentum

Now I hear your question. What’s the big deal? So they get massive time off between games? What does it hurt?

Here’s the answer. It hurts rhythm. It hurts intensity. It hurts the fierce nature of rivalries that are the core of what makes playoff basketball interesting.

In the good old days — you know, before DirecTV — teams would go on the road for the playoffs, and if they lost the first game they’d be stuck in that town, reading the papers, hearing it on TV, they’d feel a sense of them against the world, people would jeer them if they walked the streets, and then they’d get out there and battle again. If they stole one on the road, they’d boast about how the opponent now “has to come to our town and deal with us.”

Not anymore. The Nets flew home after Monday’s game and spent the next three days practicing in their gym, driving their cars, going home to their families.

That slogan lied. “Win or Go Home”? You can go home whenever you want!

Is this the playoffs or a flyby? Part of the postseason used to be the grind of it all. Who survived injuries? Who endured a slump? Who wore down his defender? Who got in the head of the other guy?

You can’t get that going when you visit each other like relatives for a Sunday dinner. I know it’s called a playoff “series,” TV folks, but that doesn’t mean you watch it once a week.

And until the NBA stops worshiping at the altar of network executives, the insanity will never stop.

By the way, Larry Brown called from Florida. He’s enjoying retirement.

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

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