Auburn Hills, Mich. -- You need to prepare your living room. Move the valuable glass stuff, put the remote on a short leash so it can't hit the screen, send the dogs and cats out of the room. If you're a Cavs fan, the Pistons are going to make you yell and steam about your team. Take it like an educated fan.
Let's all be honest here, the Pistons are better than the Cavs. They are more experienced than the Cavs. They are tougher than the Cavs. They should win the Eastern Conference Finals. That doesn't mean they will, but you can bet they will spend a lot of time making the Cavs look like a flawed contender. It's OK, they are a flawed contender. But don't make the mistake of thinking this is meaningless.
As I wrote about for the paper today, this series is all about the Cavs cutting their teeth. As Henry Hill said in Goodfellas: "The way I see it, everyone's gotta take a beating sometime." This is the next step on the road the Cavs believe will lead to a championship. For the Pistons, this very well may been their last gasp at one and the difference in the desperation will show. Last year the Cavs finished 14 games behind the Pistons. This year they finished three. The Pistons' core, with the exception of Tayshaun Prince, are reaching the end of their primes and two starters are free agents. The trend is obvious, but this is the present, not the future.
So the Cavs are going to look ugly in this series, the Pistons will make their lack of a true point guard and their offensive schematic issues a pinch point. Zydrunas Ilgauskas will at times look weak, Drew Gooden look spacey, LeBron James look passive, Larry Hughes look way too brazen, Sasha Pavlovic look foolhardy, Anderson Varejao look like he's never played the game before, Eric Snow look like a shot putter, and Daniel Gibson look like a rookie. And they'll do it with Mace cackling away on the P.A. and Rasheed Wallace skipping and doing his antics while Charles Barkley rips away at halftime.
Very few, it seems, respect the Cavs. The media doesn't vote for them for awards, their opponents don't really respect them. Trust me, last year the Washington Wizards went away convinced they were the better team and right now, to a man, the Nets think they're better, too. Even the Pistons, no matter what they say to the media, don't really respect the Cavs. They blame last year on themselves, they give little credit to the opponent.
Maybe it's because there's a backlash at all the attention paid to James. It's understandable, the same things happened in high school. Lots of people on his own state, hell, his own hometown, hated him and all he stood for...until he became a Cav and it became OK for him to have a Hummer and OK for everyone to cheer for him.
Don't be suckered in. The Cavs are going to be growing up in the next two weeks. If they are slapped, it will only make them, and James, hungrier. If they smell blood, it will only make them more dangerous. This is the way it is in basketball on all levels, you grow, take your lumps, and grow some more. After watching James and his teams steadily move up the ladder on each level and his dominance expand for the last eight years, I have learned one thing: Don't ever underestimate him because he'll prove you wrong.
To quote another famous movie line, 30 years old this summer, from Obi Wan Kenobi: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."