I understand that Game 1 of Cavs v. Pistons was a bit off the script. I doubt very many people expect a repeat performance of the 27 point pimpslap laid upon the Cavs Sunday. But just as Matt supplied the reasons why this series could be more competitive moving forward, I'll supply some reasons why this series might not be as tight as some would hope.
1. Lebron doesn’t have much help out there.
Seriously, I keep hearing that Cleveland has a talented team, but stack Cleveland’s roster up against any of the remaining teams left in these playoffs, and they have by far the least talent. Sure, they may have the best player in the game, but Drew Gooden and Eric Snow are still starting for these guys. That should tell you all you need to know about how large the talent deficit is between the Wine and Gold and the Boys in Blue.
If Larry Hughes had played a whole season in his new home and was contributing as much to the Cavs as he did to Agent Zero and the Wiz last season, I might have a different take here. But as is, relying heavily on Flip Murray, Anderson Varejao, and the like just seems akin to surrender.
2. The Piston offense will always look its best against Cleveland…unless they play the Suns in the finals.
Look, the Cavs play no defense…at all.
You all saw it on Sunday. According to ESPN, Tayshaun Prince scored 16 of his 24 points in the first half against Lebron. King James was then seen guarding Ben Wallace for a stretch. For a guy with his quickness, there's no reason that James shouldn't be able to stay with the likes of Tayshaun without getting into foul trouble (let alone hold him to under 24 in a half), and yet he’s wasting his time guarding a self-check like Big Ben? That pretty much makes him a taller, more athletic version of Steve Nash as this point (but without the MVP hardware). Just like Nash, his team will go only as far as he can lead them. Again, just like Nash, Lebron has no interest in leading them anywhere on D.
If the Cavs want to make this a series, they are going to need the effort from Lebron on both ends.
3. There is no NBA-led conspiracy to get Lebron further into the playoffs.
Despite the whinings of the Wizards faithful, there is no invisible hand guiding the officiating to advance Lebron through the playoffs. He's really that good. He gets his share of calls mostly due an insanely quick drive and because, yes, well-respected players get the benefit of the doubt more than most. Nothing new or newsworthy there.
But there’s no sixth and seventh men on the floor for Lebron like there was for Jordan against the Bad Boys in ’91. No one yet has shaped the rules of the game to make Ben Wallace or Chauncey Billups obsolete as they did when they suddenly outlawed the ’91 Pistons' physical brand of play. (Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind if Dick "The Knick" Bavetta is somehow involved in tonight’s outcome.)
4. The Cleveland Cavaliers make the Pistons angry.
Everyone who’s followed the Pistons this season is well aware that motivation and the dreaded on/off switch is their largest distraction from perfection. Those hoping that this problem would dissipate come playoff time were treated to Game 3 in Milwaukee, where the Pistons allowed a silly little under-.500 team from Wisconsin to blow them out of the Bradley Center. Well the same will never happen with the Cavs. You won’t see any 20+ point deficits at the Q in three weeks, or whenever the series finally resumes in Cleveland.
Lebron-mania has engulfed the second round of the playoffs, and the Pistons are in a self-perceived battle for respect -- humorous considering that they’ve made two straight trips to the Finals. But nonetheless, the majority of TV viewers for this series are looking in on Lebron and waiting for him to do something special. Something tells me the Pistons would love nothing more than to put this kid on the shelf after four games with a heartfelt "wait ‘til next year." It’s a flash versus substance thing, and while Lebron may eventually become the perennial champion that Jordan was (we know he has the talent), it sure as hell isn’t happening this season (despite many prayers from David Stern and Nike).
Don't get me wrong, I do not expect the Pistons to dominate just as they did in Game 1. Lindsey Hunter presumably has only one soul to sell to Damon Jones, and he bargained that away on Sunday (see Lindsey's Game 1 performance). But no one should be surprised to see the Pistons take the series in relatively easy fashion. Lebron, with a little more help and lot more D might eventually get to hoist the championship trophy (Nike will probably have him reenact Jordan's sobbing moments with it, down to the cheesy white championship hat). But for now, the Cavs are in deep, and one player is not going to save them.