Friday, April 17, 2009

The First Annual "High Socks Legend NBA Season Recap and Ultimate Playoff Preview"

The book has been closed on another NBA regular season. There were surprises (Ron Artest remaining sane for the most part), disappointments (Pistons), and the worst shooting streak in the history of the game (Baron Davis' 62 straight games failing to eclipse the 50% mark from the field). The playoff teams are gearing up for a long postseason run, while the lottery teams head home for an extended summer break. And the High Socks Legend is covering it all with the first annual "NBA Season Recap and Ultimate Playoff Preview." So relax, grab a cup of coffee (or an entire pot), and enjoy a trip through the NBA season that was...and the playoff season to be.

Re-Kappin' the Regular Season

One of the most overlooked stories of this season has been that of Grant Hill. Very quietly, for the first time in his 15 year NBA career, G-Hill played in every single one of the 82 games on the schedule. Yeah, this might not mean a lot for the average guy. But in the case of Hill, it means everything. So many times during his injury-riddled stay in Orlando, there were talks of retirement...just shutting it all down...the body can't take the pounding. He had setback after setback, and it almost became a running joke anytime you heard that he was planning to come back "stronger than ever" with each new season. He was a member of the Magic for seven years, and only twice did Hill play more than 30 games.

However, slowly but surely, his game totals started building to a crescendo. He jumped from 21 to 65. Then last year he managed to lace 'em up for 70, his highest number in close to a decade. And finally, this year, he accomplished a feat that 99% of the sports world would have deemed to be downright impossible at this point in his career. He completed an entire NBA season without a bruise, strain, or fracture. Not once did Hill have to watch the full 48 minutes from a comfy folding chair, as he had been forced to do so many times before. And despite the wear and tear, and his athleticism being a shell of what it once was, Hill acquitted himself quite well on the floor. He averaged 12 points and 5 boards in just under 30 minutes a night, while also shooting a career-best 52% from the field.

The Phoenix Suns played 82 games this year, and G-Hill was part of the action in every single one. It might seem like a meaningless number to some, but to Hill, it means everything. So at 36 years old, after undergoing more foot and heel ailments than Rik Smits and Barbaro combined, and after being written off by everyone around the league, Grant Hill can finally smile.


Five years...65 million dollars. That is what the Los Angeles Clippers paid this past off-season for the services of a Mr. Baron Davis. They envisioned Baron doing the same things he'd been doing in Golden State: running the team, getting others involved, making big shots late in the game, and turning a forgotten franchise into a relevant one. All of this sounds perfectly well and good. Only one problem that the Clippers brass failed to acknowledge...


We don't need to recap all of his struggles here. Lord knows that Baron and his infamous streak got its fair share of air time with the High Socks Legend over the winter months. But anytime a supposed NBA superstar making "NBA superstar" type money plays in 62 consecutive ballgames without shooting over 50%, it must be given its just due.

Let's recap Baron's 'Season from Hell.' He finished the year averaging just 14.9 points per game, his lowest total in eight years. He shot a paltry 37 percent from the floor, while appearing in just 65 games. Name an ailment. Baron has probably missed time because of it. Sore hip, sore ring finger, and at one point, he even sat out a few games with "ulcers," which I believe was the same problem that caused the main character on Murder, She Wrote to have to hang it up. But her excuse was valid: she was like 100 years old. Baron is a spry 30, yet is still being beaten down by an ulcer caused by a little too much cappuccino during dessert. Awfully coincidental that during last season, which was Baron's contract year, he managed to play in all 82 games, scored 22 a night, and attained a semi-respectable 42.6 field goal percentage. Hmm.

The Clippers must have signed Baron thinking, at the least, they would improve under his leadership from the 23 wins of 2007-08. Think again. The Clip Show fumbled and bumbled their way to an unfathomable 19-63 record, the only time this entire decade that they failed to reach the 20-win mark. In their season finale Wednesday night, Baron and the boys at least had a good chance to end the season on a positive note, with the dreadful Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town. Well, you know the old saying, "We left it all out on the court"?? Yeah, they didn't do that. Instead, they went out and put on quite possibly the least inspiring performance in the league this season. The Clippers got blasted by 41 points, and to a team that had just one double-digit road win the entire season (and that was in overtime!). As for our hero, it was a vintage Baron line: 8 points, 5 assists, to go with 6 turnovers, and of course, 3 for 8 from the field. Would you expect anything else? A 41-point drubbing to a 23-win team, leaving our Clippers with just 19 W's. With Baron Davis, nothing is impossible.


The Playoff Preview

You would think that the Pistons biggest mismatch heading into their series with Cleveland would be at the small forward spot...LeBron against Tayshaun. You would be wrong. Oh ok, it must be at point guard...All-Star Mo Williams against still developing Rodney Stuckey. Wrong again. The biggest mismatch in the arena come Saturday afternoon will not even be on the court. It will be on the sidelines. A battle of the two Mikes...Brown against Curry. And ours doesn't stand a chance.

To be fair, Curry was dealt a tricky hand to begin with. His point guard and franchise player, Chauncey Billups, was shipped off after just two games. Replacing him was a me-first headcase in Allen Iverson that made very little effort to fit in with his new team. The team was veteran heavy, and Joe Dumars hired a rookie in Curry to man the ship. But even while taking these things into account, Curry has still allowed this team to underachieve miserably, and things look to be near their worst heading into a daunting playoff matchup with Cleveland.

Michael Curry never seems to exude much confidence or assuredness when he's coaching. I am not questioning the man's intent or his desire to do the right's just that I don't think he is capable. Curry's appearance, posture, and on-court demeanor is usually something like this. He wears a finely knit, expensive, tan suit. He stands upright, a few feet from the bench, surveying the action. With a big moment approaching or a poor call against his team just taking place, you expect to see him take command and shout something of great importance. Maybe a play call to his point guard, or some choice words for the referee in question. Only there is usually nothing. You can tell that he wants to act like a great coach. Only he does not know how.

It is hard to point to anything about this season and honestly say, "Yep, Curry handled that one just right." While the Iverson deal was never going to be a picnic, you wonder if maybe things would have turned out differently had Curry asserted himself earlier as an authority figure. If he had told AI from day one, "Hey, we got our starting guards...I want you to turn yourself into the best 6th man this league has ever seen," maybe things would have worked out. God knows they could not have ended up any worse. His almost arbitrary shuffling of the lineup and rotation never seemed to sit well with the players. Tayshaun Prince was overworked for long stretches, with Curry somehow forgetting that Tay has a tendency to falter in the playoffs when his minutes get too heavy. Jason Maxiell, despite being one of the few to bring energy and toughness on a nightly basis, had his playing time jerked around with no explanation. Some nights, he would play 23-25 powerful minutes. Another night, he wouldn't see the court. A perfect example was Monday night, when facing a crucial game with Chicago, Maxiell was used for just 7 minutes, his lowest total since the All-Star break. And somehow, despite watching every game from the best seat in the house, Curry has been the last to realize that Will Bynum has been this team's best player for the last month. He has showed himself to be a guy that deserves serious time every night, while also being the team's most reliable 4th quarter performer. With Bynum's increased production, you would expect to see increased P.T. Not the case with Curry. Frustrating as it is, you still see a line like this for Bynum in the box score after a 4-point loss at Indiana: "16 points in 21 minutes." It begs the question...would the game's outcome been different if Bynum had seen 8-10 more minutes of action? Unfortunately, we'll probably never find out.

Countless times this season, the Pistons have been in complete control in the 4th quarter, only to see the game get stolen in the last few minutes. Appropriately enough, two of the biggest collapses came against the Bulls, the team that the Pistons were jockeying with late in the season to avoid having to play LeBron and Co. in the opening round.

In early February, the Pistons were in the process of cruising to an easy win at the United Center. Up by 14, with a floundering Bulls team showing little interest in competing, the Pistons had the game. Just play the last 12 minutes with the slightest bit of energy and intelligence, and the victory was in the bag. But in a game that would turn out to be symbolic of this team's complete lack of an identity or a killer instinct, they laid down. The Bulls attacked the basket every time down the floor, no defensive adjustments were made, and 36 4th quarter points later, the Pistons had endured their nastiest defeat of the season. That loss was immediately followed by six more, with Coach Curry sporting his trademark "Deer in the Headlights" expression throughout.

Amazingly, despite all of their struggles in the season's 2nd half, the Pistons still had a chance to avoid the poisonous 8-seed in the East. On Monday night, the setting was changed, the situation was a bit different, but the results were a carbon copy of that night in Chicago. The Pistons led by eight at the half, and six after 3 home. But when the final horn sounded, they found themselves on the short end once again. The 4th quarter was an example of everything not to do in the final stages of a meaningful game. Poor clock management, undisciplined offense, breakdowns on was all there. Under Curry's watch. The final few possessions put his inexperience on full display.

The Pistons had the ball with the score tied. Out of the timeout, it soon became clear that nobody really knew where they should be. Rodney Stuckey dribbled out on the wing, and just eight seconds into the possession, hurriedly elevated for a contested jumper. The Bulls' rookie phenom Derrick Rose went right up with him and blocked the shot. Now Chicago ball, out of a timeout. Vinnie Del Negro, another rookie head coach, shrewdly entered his best offensive weapon, Ben Gordon, into the game. You might think Curry would counter by inserting his best perimeter defender, Arron Afflalo, into the game. Never happened. Curry assigned the 6'9 Tayshaun Prince to bottle up the lightning-quick 6'3 Gordon. And while Tayshaun is one of the better defenders in the league, you'd be crazy to think he has the type of foot speed or lateral quickness to hang with Gordon at such a critical juncture. You can guess what happened next. The Bulls patiently worked into their set, allowed Gordon space to operate against Prince, and in a flash, he had beaten Tayshaun to the right, getting all the way to the rim for a game-deciding, and essentially season-ending, layup.

Sure, the Pistons had plenty of clock (14 seconds) to get a good shot and tie things back up, but it's just not the way this year's squad conducts business. Curry went with the old standby, no matter how many times it leaves Pistons fans screaming; a forced Rasheed Wallace three-ball. It went begging, as Del Negro and the Bulls danced out of the Palace with another outright hijacking. Michael Curry stood on the sidelines with that same familiar look: arms at his sides, hands in his pockets, ready to say the right thing...but nothing coming out. The Pistons head to Cleveland this weekend, where the Cavs hold a ridiculous 39-2 record at Quicken Loans Arena. He better think of something to say...and fast.


You have heard about the same teams in the East all
year long. Cleveland, Boston, Orlando. Miami a little bit, too. And even the Pistons with the whole AI fiasco. But where's the love for the Atlanta Hawks?? Mike Woodson's club silently went about their business, won an impressive 47 games, and now look to win their first playoff series in this century.

The usual suspects are still around. Joe Johnson scored his 20 plus per night and logged his usual boatload of minutes (3rd in the NBA). Let's not forget this is the same guy that almost singlehandedly knocked off the champion Celtics in the 1st round last spring. Josh Smith still makes 4-5 highlight type plays a night, but his free throw shooting has to get better for this team to pull out close games in the 4th quarter (59% this season, a career low). Mike Bibby has continued to do his thing, mainly standing behind the arc and hoisting a million threes a night. But the one guy that could make the biggest difference for Atlanta is none other than former Piston castoff and true NBA journeyman Ronald "Flip" Murray.

The beginning of a new NBA season usually means one thing for Flip Murray: a new home. In just seven years in the league, Flip has suited up for six different teams. This year, he made his way to Atlanta, hoping to finally be given a legitimate shot to contribute every single night for a team expected to do big things. He got his opportunity...and ran with it. Murray has been an invaluable sub this season for Mike Woodson. Whereas last year the Hawks leaned almost exclusively on their starters, Flip now gives them a serious threat off the pine. He comes into the game gunning from all angles. He's the kind of guy that might play 27 minutes in a game, but still end up taking 18 shots. He's a volume shooter. He was never going to be effective playing 8-12 minutes a night, and trying to provide the same boost in such a short stint. The Pistons tried this routine with him, and it never worked. For a time, Flip Saunders actually designated Murray as a baseball type "closer," only inserting him when the 4th quarter began and hoping he would carry them the rest of the way...I wish I was kidding. Mike Woodson, on the other hand, has taken the leap that no other coach was willing to take before, essentially telling Murray, "Here's your nightly allotment of minutes...make the best of 'em." And he has.

Flip went career high in all three of the main shooting categories (FG, FT, 3p). He's always been able to get to the rim, and this year he has combined that ability with a polished perimeter game, making him a true offensive weapon. He has even carried the Hawks some nights when the big guns aren't firing, stepping in off the bench and hanging a 30-spot on the shellshocked opposition. And with former lottery pick Acie Law never materializing, and free-agent bust Speedy Claxton rotting on the pine, Flip has also managed to fill in quite nicely as the team's 2nd point guard when Bibby needs a breather.

Whether it's the perpetually sleepy look on his face, the unique offensive repertoire, or just the cool nickname, I've always had a certain fondness for Flip. When Ray Allen went down during Flip's 2nd season in Seattle, he got the first chance to really showcase his skills. And Flip proceeded to take the league by storm. He was putting up 20, 30, points every night before anybody even knew who he was or why he was called Flip (most say it is because his buddies thought he looked like Bernie Mac's character from 'Above the Rim'). But like it has gone for Murray throughout most of his career, that situation quickly fizzled. He was shipped out of Seattle, and has been looking for a true home ever since. In Atlanta, he has finally found one. When the Hawks open up against the Heat, all eyes will be focused on Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson. Me? I'll be squarely focused on #22 in the blue and white, because if history has taught us anything, it is never to forget about old Flip.


If you're a Pistons fan, there's a good chance you'll be looking for another team to adopt for the rest of the playoffs after the first round is finished. The obvious choice lies in Denver, where 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups has brought new life to a stagnant franchise. The main question is, can Chauncey corral this wild group of Nuggets? I single out Chauncey specifically because it has become obvious the past couple of seasons that George Karl has officially entered the Don Nelson "I'll sit here and watch, but don't expect me to move a muscle or say anything during the game" phase of his career. Just watch Karl anytime J.R. Smith throws up a 35-footer with 17 on the shot clock. He won't react. It's like he's in an uninterrupted season-long trance, not unlike that of Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. So if this team goes anywhere, it will be Mr. Big Shot leading the way.

He will have a wild cast of characters to keep in line as they prepare to host the playoff-tested Hornets. J.R. Smith is a gunner, simple as that. He could go out on any particular night and drop 40 off the bench, or he could shoot you right out of the game with a 2-19. Kenyon Martin is doing the same things he's always done. He will rebound a little bit, try and seriously injure the guy he's guarding, and then at some point, probably go to the locker room with a medical problem of his own. But the craziest of them all is the Birdman, Chris Andersen. He spends all his time on the floor trying to block shots, regardless of which team has the ball. Birdman sort of looks like a coked out Zeljko Rebraca, with the multitude of tattoos up and down his arms, spiked hair, and an overall look that says, "You probably don't wanna come too close to me." His appearance is a lot like the naked senior citizen at your local health club locker room: it's unsightly, there's a lot of moving parts, but you just can't seem to look away.

Carmelo Anthony has been the de facto leader of this team for the entirety of his 5-year career. And as we all known, Melo has been ousted in the opening round of the playoffs in all five years. With Chauncey on board now, I think that finally changes. The Nuggets are extremely tough at home, and enter the postseason playing some of their best basketball of the year. It will be nice to see Chauncey ratcheting up the Pepsi Center crowd with one of his signature dagger 3-balls in the late stages. I just hope the fans don't get too loud...George Karl might still be sleeping.


Somehow, the New Orleans Hornets just have not been the same team this season. Last year, they steamrolled their way to 56 victories, ultimately bowing out in the conference semis to the Spurs in a 7-game bloodbath. They were a team on the rise. Chris Paul was the NBA's brightest new superstar, controlling the game with the wily intelligence of a 15-year vet. David West was emerging right along with him, becoming a household name with his devastating array of post moves and step-back jumpers. And the supporting cast, while not setting the world ablaze, was more than respectable. The one thing preventing this team from serious contention is the lack of a real threat from the swingman position. And with that, a hard glare must be cast in the direction of one Peja Stojakovic...the man holding the Hornets back.

The role for Stojakovic on this team is very clear: make shots. A mid-range J coming off a curl...a fast-break pull-up from the wing...a wide open 3 from the corner. Just make shots. That's all. We have guys that can do everything else. But for one reason or another, be it a bad back, a forged Serbian birth certificate (his records say he is 31...looks more like 45), or just a very long cold streak, the guy that was a deadeye in Sacramento just looks dead in New Orleans. When Peja was right, he would routinely shoot close to 48% from the field and over 40 from deep. This year, his FG% dwindled to .401, and his money stat, 3P%, fell below 40 for the first time in six years. Those are numbers you expect from Rasual Butler or Devin Brown, two other Hornets relied upon for clutch outside shooting. But not from Peja.

He is clearly not the same player he once was. He struggles to create his own shot, he cannot create for others, and his defense won't be reminding anyone of Michael Cooper. But if there's one thing the guy could always do, it was knock down jump shots. I've seen the following sequence play out more than a few times this year.

Tight game, 4th quarter, Hornets up 2-4 points, and Chris Paul finds Peja standing all by his lonesome in the deep corner. It's a possible backbreaker trey...make it and the other team's will is broken the instant the ball falls through the net. The crowd is ready to tear the roof off the building if it goes down. Peja sets and releases with his distinctive 'arm in front of the face' follow through. It looks looks good...andddd back iron.

It helps to explain the 7-win dropoff from last season, and acts as a possible foreshadowing to a Hornet 1st round exit in the coming weeks. Rightfully, Chris Paul is the player grabbing all of the attention and accolades on this team. But he could play perfect basketball for seven straight games...and it won't mean a thing. Unless Peja can become Peja again.


Five Reasons that the Cleveland Cavaliers Will Bother Me During the First Round

1. Anderson Varejao- The shaggy-haired Brazilian will be counted on heavily during the Cavs quest for their first ever championship Who doesn't hate this guy??? He's listed at 6'11, 260 pounds. Yet, if you make even the slighest bit of contact with him, he's flying backwards as if shot right out of a cannon. How irritating must it have been to be in a pillow fight with Varejao at a sleepover? You give him one glancing blow with your sack of feathers and boom!...he's careening backwards through your living room wall. His flopping and various histrionics on the floor have drawn the ire of many around the league. Most recently, it was Ray Allen that decided he'd had enough of these dirty tactics, and responded with an elbow to Varejao's "special area." I say 'Bravo!' The guy has made a living during his career by getting under the opposition's skin, and it's about time he got a little taste of his own medicine. If we're lucky, maybe Michael Curry will do something right and send in Amir Johnson or Kwame Brown with specific instructions to "take out the woman." His message would be clear...and the High Socks Legend could finally watch the rest of the series in peace.

2. The national media continuing to act like Mo Williams came out of nowhere this season. You even hear rumblings about him being the league's "Most Improved Player." I understand it's his first time with a legitimate contender, and yes, he's had a tremendous campaign, but the guy's been putting up the same numbers for a few years now. This season was no different, except that he was out of the NBA Siberia that is Milwaukee.

3. Former Pistons announcer Fred McLeod left the Pistons a few years back to go join the Cavs, grabbing one of the last available seats on the "LeBron love-fest bandwagon." He's like the Tony Almeida of broadcasting. Just when you think McLeod was on your side for life, there he is slapping it up on FSN Ohio, watching #23 make another ridiculous shot and saying things like, "Oh cut it out,'re killin' me!" The thought of Freddie Mac crying himself to sleep every night for the next six months makes the possibility of a Pistons miracle seem that much sweeter.

4. Coach Mike Brown- There are a few reasons this guy bothers me...

* The guy's wife chooses what eyeglasses he will wear before each game. Fine with me, but do we really need to be beaten to death with this fact throughout the playoffs? If there's one request I can make to the various announcers covering this series, it is this. Please do not remind us of this little "glasses story" over and over isn't that interesting, and we honestly could not care less.

* Brown's favorite thing to watch on the tube? TV court shows, like Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown. That's just embarrassing. If I came home from class one day in college and saw one of my roommates watching that garbage, it would mean one of two things. Either the TV was broken, and that was the only channel coming in...or we all needed to have a serious sit-down discussion with that guy, and help him through this low spot in his life.

* Just come out and tell us that you're living a double life. TV personality by day, basketball coach by night. I mean, you are Al Roker, right??

5. LeBron and the referees- Sure, it's an old bit, and a tired one. But it's the truth. In the next couple of weeks, you are gonna see dozens of whistles on Tayshaun, Rasheed, and the rest when LeBron goes to the hoop. And the first thing you will wonder is, "Where was the foul??" And you'd be right. But sure enough, the replay will come, the contact will be non-existent, and the announcers will proceed to gloss right over the bogus call as if nothing fishy just happened. The only saving grace here is that curiously, Will Bynum has also been getting the "superstar whistle" treatment of late; the only difference being that Bynum will probably shoot 15-20 free throws in the entire series, while LeBron will probably equal that amount in Saturday's opener.


And what's a good NBA Playoff article without some bold predictions??


-The Jazz will bow out to Kobe and Co. in a 6-game affair. Jerry Sloan's crew had a golden opportunity to avoid this matchup by winning in LA in their season finale. Unfortunately, they played very flat for much of the night, and wind up right back at Staples to open the playoffs. Plus, Matt Harpring turned into Scott Padgett about halfway through this season (not a good thing). Just way too much firepower from the Lakers here, though a Jerry Sloan team is never an easy out come April and May.

-The Denver Nuggets will knock off Peja and the Hornets. Following the series, Hornet reserve forwards Ryan Bowen and Sean Marks will elope to Las Vegas and get married. Louis Amundson will serve as best man for both.

-The Spurs and Mavs is a tough one to call. Dirk's crew was inconsistent for much of the year, but have come on very strong of late. The Spurs are proven playoff warriors, but the Ginobili injury is a tough one to overcome. I'll go San Antonio here, and mostly because my boy Ime Udoka has been getting consistent minutes down the stretch and I've never seen the guy miss a shot. I'm serious. You may have never heard of him, and he might just average a few points a game, but Udoka is gonna become a household name in the next three weeks. Trust me.

(And yes, to answer your question, it's well past 4 AM at this point. Only one of my eyes is open.)

-The Rockets have been unable to get past the opening round with Tracy McGrady. Now that T-Mac will be MIA for the playoffs due to an injury, they have a chance to prove that they never needed him in the first place. The Rockets trying to sell me on the new dynamic Ron Artest-Yao Ming combo...I'm not buying it. I've seen Artest lose his mind too many times in critical situations (2004 ECF against Detroit, where his mindless flagrant foul on Rip Hamilton handed the Pistons the series) to believe that he can lead a team on a playoff run. And while Brandon Roy's tremendous play for Portland can sometimes go unnoticed by the national media, this will be his official coming out party. Blazers move on.


-The news of Kevin Garnett's injury changes the whole landscape of the Eastern Conference playoffs. (And makes the Pistons collapse to the 8th spot all the more frustrating) The Celtics will still have more than enough to get by the Bulls here. But their prospects beyond that have become much more uncertain. Chicago is building a nice nucleus, but they aren't ready for this stage.

(One thing to watch for. Both teams have aggressive, emotional big guys, in Kendrick Perkins and Joakim Noah. Look for this duo to get tangled up at some point. I like Perkins in a 4th round TKO, with his 200-plus pound weight advantage too much for Noah to overcome.)

-Magic and the 76ers. Yeah, wake me up when this one's over. Is it just me, or has Philly had the same sad cast of characters for the last million years? Sam Dalembert and his "I'll play 5 good games a year to make you think I still have potential." Willie Green, who is always one awkward crossover away from tearing his ACL for the 25th time. And Andre Miller, who despite being regarded as one of the better point guards in the league, has still yet to win a playoff series in his 10-year career. The drought continues here.

-Let everyone else fawn over Miami. I'm sticking with the Fightin' Flip Murrays. Because unless Dwyane Wade can score over 40 a night while shooting close to 50%, the Heat are going down here. Have you looked at his supporting cast lately? A washed up Jermaine O' unfortunate looking rookie, Michael Beasley...and Jamaal "Wait, he's still alive?!?!?" Magloire all being counted on for big minutes?? Yamma-hamma! The Heat are being proactive, though. Just this morning, they announced they will be calling up a small forward from their D-League affiliate and he will be inserted into the starting lineup for Game 1 Sunday night at Atlanta. I can't wait for that introduction...

"For the Heat...At small forward...Standing 6'7, from North Carolina State....RICE PILAFFFF!!"

-And lastly, Detroit-Cleveland. This has been one of the most trying seasons in Pistons history. The Chauncey-Iverson deal blew up in Joe Dumars' face. Michael Curry never figured anything out. Hall-of-Fame owner Bill Davidson passed away. Rodney Stuckey didn't make the 2nd year leap everyone expected. Rasheed, Rip, and Tayshaun are still around...but sometimes you're not so sure they want to be. It all adds up to an uninspiring 39-43 record. And you can't help but think that if the season were 10 games longer, the Pistons wouldn't even make the playoffs at all.

So after a most impressive string of six consecutive trips to the conference finals, the ride ends here. Cleveland has been too strong all year long, and LeBron James is not about to be dealt a first round exit in the most important postseason of his career. Let's be honest. The man is unguardable. The one Piston that seems to do a decent job covering James is the hyperkinetic Walter Herrmann...and if that's not the saddest thing you've ever read as a Pistons fan, then I don't know what is.

What are your thoughts and predictions on the upcoming NBA Playoffs? Drop your comment below, or shoot me an e-mail over at