- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Count luck as one of the attributes of the Pistons.

The Pistons do not prevail in Game 7 in Miami if Dwyane Wade is remotely healthy.

The Pistons do not prevail in Game 7 if Shaquille O’Neal is not limited because of a deep thigh bruise, if Damon Jones is not hobbled with a bruised heel and sprained ankle and if Eddie Jones is not playing with a bruised foot.

This is how it was with the Pistons in the NBA Finals last June. That series turned in favor of the Pistons following the knee injury to Karl Malone that merely exacerbated the tenuous physical condition of the Lakers, notably the sub-par status of Devean George and Derek Fisher at the time.

It is hard to brush out all these fortuitous circumstances in the rise of the Pistons. They are a solid team, no doubt. They commit themselves to the little functions that all too many teams neglect.

There was no better evidence of that than 6-foot-3 guard Chauncey Billups sneaking into the three-second lane and getting a put-back in the second half. That is something that happens in January against a dog-tired team playing on back-to-back nights. That never should have happened in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against a team as experienced as the Heat.

But that is the Pistons. They have a tenacity about them. If you let them hang around instead of closing the door on them, you just might find yourself paying a dear price, as the Heat did.

But it never would have come down to a few plays at the end if Wade had not been slowed by a rib muscle injury that necessitated a painkilling injection before the game.

Wade finished with 20 points on 20 shot attempts, one rebound and five turnovers. It could be argued his decision to play undermined the cause of the Heat, except in the third quarter when he showed some semblance of competence.

Not that Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, the pizza parlor guy, had viable options besides playing Wade. It was what it was with this broken-down Heat team.

Shaq and Co. were extremely vulnerable, and the Pistons exploited it, as they did with the Lakers last June.

So let’s not confuse the opportunism of the Pistons with greatness. Let’s resist the obligation to shower superlatives on a team seeking to claim two championships in a row.

The Pistons are a good team, a solid team and all that. But they also are an extremely fortunate team.

They possibly would not even have advanced to the conference finals if the Pacers had been whole, if Jermaine O’Neal had not been saddled with a sprained right shoulder and if Ron Artest had been in the lineup.

Now the Pistons are looking to challenge Tim Duncan and the Spurs, looking to win over a few more skeptics.

It won’t happen against the Spurs, even if Duncan is playing on two sore ankles. Just forget it. The Spurs play with the efficiency of the Pistons, only they are better at it. And unlike the Pistons, the Spurs do not come down with the occasional bout of anemia on offense.

Of course, because this series involves the Pistons, Duncan is liable to break both ankles in Game 1, Manu Ginobili is liable to get run over by the team bus and Tony Parker is liable to come down with scurvy.

Perhaps the Spurs should hire a professional food taster. You would hate to see the series decided on food poisoning.

That is just the way it is with the Pistons.

Their ascendancy comes with a big, fat asterisk, for strange things break their way, including the brawl of November.

The latest was Wade attempting to execute a crossover dribble in Game 5, as he has done a zillion times, only this time he strained a rib muscle, and that was the series.

Some teams just have all the luck.

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