Detroit needs an engine overhaul
By Charley Rosen
Page 2 columnist

If the Nets won Game 1 on their last possession, the Pistons lost Game 2 (and most likely the entire series) at the opening tipoff, when Rick Carlisle sat Michael Curry and plugged Tayshaun Prince, a mere rookie, into Detroit's starting line-up.

The move was made to theoretically boost the Pistons' offense, but Prince wound up shooting 2-5 in 25 minutes and contributed six measly points. A bad gamble? Yes.

But the move by Carlisle also sent the following message to his players: What got them to the Eastern Conference finals was not good enough to take the team to the next level.

By disregarding the fact that Curry is one of the Pistons' most positive locker room presences, Carlisle also undermined the team's primary strength -- its overall chemistry. Curry was double-dissed when he was denied any daylight whatsoever.

The pressure made Carlisle blink again in the closing minutes of the game when he repeatedly called Corliss Williamson's number in the clutch. This was the same guy that Carlisle kept bench-bound for most of the Philadelphia series -- the reason being that, except for Keith Van Horn-less, there was nobody Williamson could be trusted to guard, and also because Carlisle felt that Williamson had developed a bad case of sticky fingers and was reluctant to pass the ball.

Before being called upon to rescue the Pistons' at the end of Game 2, Williamson had been distracted by trying to prove to young Kenyon Martin that he remained the nastiest player in captivity. Meanwhile, Martin was beating the veteran up, down and sideways. No surprise, then, when Williamson shot an airball with the game on the line.

Tayshaun Prince
Prince hasn't proven he's a playoff starter yet.
In truth, the Pistons' lack a dependable go-to player. Okay, Richard Hamilton can singlehandedly create enough room for his stop-and-pops, but Rip is also renowned as being a "mistake player" who can't be trusted in endgame situations. Sure, Chauncey Billups has a (very recent) history of converting chancey 3-balls -- but Billups has always been bothered by chest-to-chest defenders, and perimeter performers are rarely bailed out by the referees. And if Prince was surprisingly effective against the Sixers, the Nets were forewarned and forearmed to push him baseline and two-time him there.

What, if anything, can the Pistons do, not only to avert being swept, but to win the series?

  • Start Curry and use Prince off the bench.

  • Force Jason Kidd to become an outside shooter. This means playing him soft on the perimeter (even sagging off Kidd as though he were Ben Wallace), and going under every screen/roll. In Game 2, Kidd shot well when allowed to penetrate past the foul line, but only 2-for-9 from above the circle. Aside from capitalizing on his erratic perimeter shooting, such a tactic would hopefully minimize Kidd's ability to drive, draw a crowd of defenders, and then dish out open shots and dunkers to his teammates. (With a game up for grabs, however, Kidd is a thoroughly reliable shot-maker.)
  • Be more careful with the ball. Detroit's penchant for making lazy, careless passes feeds the Nets' running game. Moreover, on some of Detroit's offensive sets, the angle from the middleman (the passer) to the wingman (the pass receiver) is too flat, so that the resulting passes are routinely intercepted, deflected or just barely completed. The wingman must be stationed a few steps closer to the basket so he can put a body on his defender and thusly protect the passing alley.
  • Limit Cliff Robinson's playing time. The wheels have fallen off, the stroke is cranky and the defense is more of a memory than an actuality. Even in Robinson's heyday, his playoff stats were remarkably inferior to his regular-season numbers (shooting .447 in the latter and only .401 in the former, likewise down in rebounds and assists, and averaging nearly four points less in postseason play).
  • Accept that Jon Barry is a severe liability on defense, but play him more and get him more touches. Also, make him play with a gag over his mouth.
  • Even though Chucky Atkins is sometimes shakey with the ball, he also needs more PT and more touches. Especially since Billups is still somewhat gimpy.
  • Continue to send three or four players racing back on defense to limit New Jersey's fast break opportunities.
  • Avoid taking quick shots, no matter how open they might be.
  • Chauncey Billups
    Billups needs help if Detroit plans on making this a series.

  • Rebound, rebound, rebound.
  • The Nets' advantages are their superior athleticism, their underrated defense (particularly their quick hands in the middle), and their explosive fast breaks, which can score points in bunches. The underrated Nets have already made a mediocre team (Boston) look horrible, and are in the process of making a good team (Detroit) stumble and bumble.

    Moreover, the Nets' primary go-to player is Jason Kidd, who proves that it's not how many points a player scores that counts, but when he scores them. At the same time, Kenyon Martin has also evolved into a force in the end-game, not only capable of creating his own shots but of converting clutch free throws.

    The moral here is that team chemistry is not enough to win championships. When the game clock is ticking down and the score is tight, the responsibility for taking the do-or-die shots cannot be delegated to a committee. Indeed, championship teams must have one dependable horse which they can ride across the finish line.

    In Game 1, Kidd's last-gasp shot proved to be the winner. In Game 2, Kidd won the game by stopping Billups at the buzzer. A two-way go-to guy a la Michael Jordan, J-Kidd is the Nets' ultimate advantage.

    Even though Detroit hasn't been beaten just yet, their end is nigh, because J-Kidd is a winner who will refuse to lose.

    Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."



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