LADIES AND gentlemen, kiss your sports fan good-bye.

Check back in a week. Follow the trail of empty pop cans and pizza boxes. Listen for the sounds of a whimpering voice, hoarse from screaming. Sniff the aroma of unwashed jeans, dirty socks and …

OK, forget the sniffing part.

You get the idea. We are about to enter the mother lode of sports hysteria. Seven days of playoffs without a break. Red Wings. Pistons. Red Wings. Pistons.

Two sports. Two teams. Two playoff series.

And — get this — alternate nights!

Not since the Lord created Heaven and Earth have we seen a schedule this divine.

Here’s the pattern: Red Wings vs. Colorado on Friday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Pistons vs. Atlanta on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The search party from your office arrives after that.

(By the way, Detroit is the only city where hockey and basketball are still operating concurrently, which proves this is the best place in the world to live if you never want to see the outdoors.)

Think of the possibilities! Hockey Night in Detroit. Followed by Basketball Night in Detroit. Followed by Hockey Night in Detroit. Followed by …well, you get the picture.

Or do you? I just realized something. Things could get fuzzy. So many games. So many names. You could be yelling, “Go Stevie! Dunk it!” Or, “Way to go Grant! Put it in his five hole!”

Hmm. An unusual problem.

How does one keep his bearings?

Hockey vs. hoops

Allow me to help with this handy little guide to basketball and hockey nights. I call it:

My Handy Little Guide To Basketball and Hockey Nights

For example …

If the players on your TV are bleeding from the elbow, it’s basketball night. If they’re bleeding from everywhere else, it’s hockey night.

If the game stops 50 times in the last 30 seconds, it’s basketball night. If it goes on until 4 a.m. — with the score tied, 0-0 — it’s hockey night.

If there’s a “Sweetness” on the team, it’s basketball night. If there’s a Swede on the team, it’s definitely hockey.

If the coach’s hair is coiffed and blow-dried, it’s basketball night. If the coach is bald and chewing ice, it’s hockey.

If the players aren’t giving interviews, it’s basketball night. If the players are doing interviews, curing sick children and delivering meals — between periods — it’s hockey.

If “deflected shot” means it misses, it’s basketball. If “deflected shot” means it went in, it’s hockey.

If the center is the slowest guy out there, it’s basketball. If the center is the fastest guy out there, it’s hockey.

If the players know anything by Puff Daddy, it’s basketball. If they know anything by Boris Yeltsin, it’s hockey.

If something bangs off the glass and swishes, it’s basketball. If something bangs off the glass and yells, “YOU BLEEPING BLEEP!” it’s hockey.

If a smiling player looks like Ichabod Crane, it’s basketball. If he looks like a jack-o’-lantern, it’s hockey.

If the players think “face-off” means John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, it’s basketball. If the players think “lane violation” means the wrong line at the Windsor tunnel, it’s hockey.

If the player says “you know?” after every sentence, it’s basketball. If the player says “eh?” after every sentence, it’s hockey.

And if the player says, “We’re just taking them one game at a time” — well, it could be either.

The playoff name game

You’ll know it’s basketball night if the “injured list” means a sore hamstring. You’ll know it’s hockey night if the “injured list” means a coma.

You’ll know it’s basketball night if the player walks back to the bench and sits. You’ll know it’s hockey night if the player throws himself over a wall and lands in someone’s lap.

You’ll know it’s basketball night when half the guys look like Denzel Washington or Kurt Russell. You’ll know it’s hockey night when half the players look like Grizzly Adams.

You’ll know it’s basketball when they go up to block a shot. You’ll know it’s hockey when they go down.

You’ll know it’s basketball when you can read a player’s tattoo. You’ll know it’s hockey when you can count his stitches.

You’ll know it’s basketball when the team sounds like an English tea party: Grant, Lindsey, Christian. You’ll know it’s hockey when it sounds like a Little Rascals episode: Stevie, Shanny, Iggy, Ozzie.

If the player says, “This is our house,” it’s basketball. If the player says,
“This is our rink,” it’s hockey.

And if the player says, “This is the time of year I live for, and I’m not thinking about anything else until it’s all over” — it could be either.

Or it could be you.

What’s that pizza place’s number?

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 1-313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Listen to “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 6:30-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760).

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