- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

The upside-down Pistons-Cavaliers series is not about the push-off abilities of LeBron James, although the latitude he is afforded in that area is unprecedented.

The referees did not turn a blind eye to Michael Jordan’s push-off obsession until his second go-around with the Bulls. By then, Jordan was well into his legendary career, and as you know, legends are granted certain liberties in the NBA.

Jordan ended his tenure with the Bulls by pushing Bryon Russell to the floor in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 1998 and sinking a series-ending jump shot, which reflected the worshipful mood of the league then.

Jordan was the cash cow who could do no wrong. He undoubtedly could have taken a sledgehammer to Russell’s head, and it would have been deemed within the spirit of the rules.

Kobe Bryant is another player who can’t keep his hands to himself if he is trying to execute a maneuver on offense and the defender is not inclined to genuflect in his direction.

This is what prompted Raja Bell to send Bryant to the floor like a rag doll. Bell was tired of the official indifference and especially tired of one so gifted resorting to schoolyard tricks. The ploys of the recreation league has-beens should be beneath Bryant, don’t you think?

Bryant’s old buddy, Shaquille O’Neal, does not use his hands to create space on his shot attempts. He merely shoulder bumps a defender into submission. It usually comes out to about three shoulder bumps, after which the defender is stationed out of bounds and O’Neal has a clear path to the basket.

Unlike James, O’Neal, Bryant and Jordan advanced to this special place in their basketball lives because of the championship jewelry on their fingers.

James has seven career playoff victories. Give him that. Yet a playoff victory is hardly the equivalent of a championship ring. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

This is fairly obvious stuff, except to the referees who are indulging every hop, skip, travel and push-off authored by the 21-year-old James.

The referees already have awarded James the Jordan medal of respect, however premature it is.

Not that this notable benefit is the reason the Cavaliers lead the Pistons 3-2 in their best-of-seven series.

The Pistons are in this position because they put it in cruise control the last few months of the regular season and lost the magic, the feeling and confidence that had them on a 70-win pace in the first half of the season.

These Pistons are not the December Pistons. These Pistons don’t score in bunches like the December Pistons. They don’t close games like them.

In fact, the difference in the series is the Cavaliers outplaying the Pistons in the fourth quarter of the last four games.

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