- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rasheed Wallace guaranteed a victory in Game 4, which just goes to show you he is no better than the rest of us in the prognostication business.

If any of us were all that reliable in predicting the outcome of games, none of us would be wasting our time yapping or scribbling about it. We would be in Las Vegas, where the real money is for those with an accurate crystal ball.

The smart thinking going into Game 4 of the Pistons-Cavaliers series suggested the Pistons would refocus their attention, and that pretty much would be the end of the Cavaliers.

There was plenty of evidence to support the claim, except professional athletes are not programmed to accept the odds, long though they may be. After all, each has beaten considerable odds to reach the top rung of the athletic ladder.

Besides, in the NBA playoffs, it is not about how a team played at various points in the regular season. It is about how a team is playing now.

The Pistons were the best team in the NBA before the All-Star Game, which almost feels like several seasons ago, so tediously protracted is the season. The Pistons are something less than the best team now.

The Bucks’ 20-point waxing of the Pistons in Game 3 of their first round series was a compelling clue that all is not ideal in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The best-team appellation goes to the Mavericks, who lead the Spurs 3-1 in their best-of-seven series. If you were required to rank the leading teams in the NBA at the moment, it could go in this order: Mavericks, Spurs, Heat and Pistons.

You could argue it, of course, and much of the male population will waste a considerable number of potentially productive hours doing just that. And a good number will turn out to be correct because of statistical probability.

The late, great sportscaster Glenn Brenner got it right years ago, when he employed an elephant to pick the upcoming week’s football games by placing the helmets of the two opponents on the ground and allowing the elephant to choose a helmet with its trunk.

The elephant ended up being a fairly effective prognosticator, all things considered.

Pat Riley and the Heat have been the butt of jokes and doubted at every low point in the season, and not undeservedly, it should be pointed out.

They are a basketball lab experiment gone wild, given the additions of Jason Williams, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton.

And yet, Riley’s Odd Bunch has shown the capacity to be special, if not championship worthy, so long as Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal are sufficiently engaged in the proceedings.

The rap on Walker — he has no conscience on his shot selection — is now viewed as a positive. You see, his lack of conscience always makes him a threat. And that is a good thing with the Heat, given O’Neal is planted near the basket and Wade lacks a viable 3-point shot to extend the defense.

The Heat’s two leading players invite defenses to pack the three-second lane. But there is the element of Walker, the wild card who is crazy enough to shoot the ball as indiscriminately as a playground artist.

Not too long ago, a Pistons-Spurs matchup in June seemed inevitable.

Now that thinking is being modified.

The Mavericks appear genuine enough, Riley’s Odd Bunch is not in on the joke, the Spurs are down 3-1 when they could be just as easily up 3-1, and the Pistons look vulnerable.

A Heat-Mavericks NBA Finals?

Such thinking would have been deemed mindless going into the playoffs.

But now, even if this scenario has a fair distance to travel before reality, it no longer is far-fetched.

This is not to dismiss the downgraded championship prospects of the Pistons and the Spurs, only to remind that the participants do not play these games because of their aerobic benefits and that an elephant is liable to be as insightful as anyone else before tipoff.

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