It all starts at 6:00 p.m. tonight. I've searched and I've searched and I've searched, but I still haven't found a single person who predicted a Sixers win in this series. Good.
Everyone seems to think the Sixers would be lucky (and should thank their lucky stars) if they can win a game or two against the mighty Pistons. Good. The Pistons themselves think their experience alone will be enough to take the day. Good. Their fans are already looking past the Sixers. Good. Philadelphia's own beat writers give the Sixers no chance. Good.
The last time the odds were stacked this high against the Sixers they stood 12 games below .500 and heading for another middling lottery pick. We all know what happened from that point on.
I said I wasn't going to predict the outcome of this series, but I've changed my mind. Everything I've read, seen or heard leads me to believe not only is the entire media taking the Sixers lightly, but the Pistons are as well. They expect a sweep. They are going to be in for a dog fight. On paper, they have the advantage. On the court, they have the experience. What they also have is the mileage. The Sixers are a young team who learned how to win playoff-type games, against playoff-caliber teams down the stretch. To win in the playoffs you need to be able to defend, most importantly, you need to be able to defend when it matters most, in the fourth quarter. From February through the end of the season they lost one game after going into the fourth quarter with a lead. Over those 36 games, only 8 times did they allow 25 points or more in the fourth quarter. This teams locks down opposing offenses when all the money is on the table.
They've already gone into Detroit, played a half-court game and beaten Detroit. They are young, they are hungry and they are determined. The Pistons have this enormous collective ego based on one ring won years ago. If you ask them, they should have more, but maybe there's a reason they don't. Maybe believing the hype makes them vulnerable. I do know this about them, they're led by a coach who has gone to the playoffs 11 times and has yet to even make it to the finals. He's taken this team, this team of destiny, and failed. He took several Timberwolves teams with Kevin Garnett, in his prime, and failed. That's an awful lot of failure for a team and a coach who think so highly of themselves.
Here's my final reason. Time and time again the Sixers played teams with better players. They played more complete teams. They played more experienced teams. They went into so many games without a chance to win, and they won. At a certain point I stopped listening to common knowledge and started believing that a team who cares more about winning than personal stats and looking good can not only compete, but can win. The Pistons have experience playing big games in playoffs past, the Sixers have the experience of playing big games, as the underdog, over the past two months, and they came out on top more often than not. The Pistons, the media and the fans may not believe in the Sixers, but ever man in that locker room does. That might be all that matters.
When they're playing their best game, at a comfortable pace the Pistons are extremely hard to beat. When they're pushed out of their comfort zone by an aggressive, young team, anything can happen. That's what I'm banking on. Here's my prediction: Sixers in six games
. They take game 1 in Detroit, games 3 and 4 in Philly and game 6 in Philly.
Call me crazy, but I love this team's history of winning as the underdog, youthful legs, leadership, heart and desire. I think they've got two stars in their starting lineup, and two more future stars in their rotation. Yes, they're mostly inexperienced, but they have a coach who's played in these games, and won them. A coach who's had them ready to play night in and night out. A coach who's made them all believe they belong on this stage. He's won them over, and I guess you could say he's won me over as well. Sixers in six games, you heard it here first.
I'm going to be away from my computer for most of the day, but I'll be back at 5:30 to kick off the live blog. You can sign up for a reminder at the bottom of this post. In the mean time, here are links to all of the prep work we've done over the past couple of days.