- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

CLEVELAND.

A brain-numbing, eye-glazing pattern is affixed to the Cavaliers-Pistons series.

The first team to 79 points won the first two games of the series.

LeBron James won the third game of the series.

The methodical nature of the proceedings is occasionally interrupted by the histrionics of Rasheed Wallace, a comically emotive sort who, in his mind, never has committed a personal foul during his 12 seasons in the NBA.

This conviction often leads to all kinds of riotous behavior on his part, none of which persuades the referees to change the call or act favorably toward him at a later time.

It was suggested to Pistons coach Flip Saunders that the series has been “brutal,” if not impossible, to watch.

Saunders, an even-tempered person who seems to understand he merely is around not to mess up Larry Brown’s championship work, finds no fault in the notion.

“The East always has been notorious for being maybe a little bit more defensive-oriented, a little bit more slow down, not as open,” he says. “What happens is that usually the rest of the conference takes on the personality of the top teams. I think that’s what we’ve seen in the East.”

Saunders concedes that perhaps only the truly committed are following the Cavaliers-Pistons series.

“Maybe our games haven’t been the most entertaining,” he says. “There haven’t been a lot of runs in the game, haven’t been a lot of dunks in the game, haven’t been a lot of those plays that might lead the average fan to say, ‘That’s exciting-type basketball.’ From a purist standpoint, to see how teams go out and how they’re basically working, defending and playing hard, that’s maybe a different story.”

The principal story of the series, limited as it is, concerns James, the leading player on the floor if he is inclined to be.

The Pistons have no counter to him, not even the alien known as Tayshaun Prince, who has the arms of a 7-footer but the body of a stick figure that cannot neutralize the brawn of James.

The Nike-controlled James is the perfect leading man of this tepid series. He is so indebted to his sponsors, so afraid to express a modicum of his true self, that he possibly no longer knows who he really is.

His comments have all the freshness and vitality of reading lines from a script.

It is remarkable that one of Nike’s representatives is not at his side as he is being ushered to the interview room by the Cavaliers communications people to read his prepared comments.

His choreographed personality is overshadowed by the expectations that have followed him ever since he became the anointed one of ESPN while a prep star living in nearby Akron, Ohio.

He was dubbed the “King” and “Chosen One” long before he took his first step in the postseason.

The steps are now being made.

“This game doesn’t put something on me where it’s, ‘Hey, I’ve finally done it,’ ” James says. “This was a big game. We won it, and now we have to move on.”

The Pistons can find comfort in being in position to win Game 3 with the All-Star backcourt of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton in a self-destructive state.

The two combined to make only six of 22 field goal attempts and had five assists and seven turnovers.

Billups in particular has been dreadful in all three games, with 17 turnovers compared to 14 assists.

Mr. Big Shot has morphed into Mr. Wayward Shot in a contract season.

“It’s myself and Rip that are lacking and not playing very great right now,” Billups says. “As the leader of this team, you have to take the responsibility head-on and say we have to play better. For us to have a chance, we have to play better, and that’s all there is to it.”

That is not all there is to it.

But a Billups-Hamilton assault would be a sound start to ending the misery of this series.

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