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Game 36 Preview: Detroit Pistons @ SA

Tonight's starting lineups:

DET (27-5, 13-3 away)
PG Chauncey Billups
SG Rip Hamilton
SF The TayTay
PF Richard Hamilton
C Ben Wallace

SA (27-8, 16-1 home)
SG Mr. In Between
SF Bruce Bowen

Huge. Game. HUGE. I have set the over/under on Barkley saying "finally a game worth watching" at 19.

If DET wins tonight I have little doubt that SA will downplay the game's importance without providing any bulletin board material. "They were clearly the better team tonight, but it's a long way until June. We're focused on winning our division, not the playoffs and certainly not the finals." But I see through that garbage.

I'll say it again. Tonight's game is enormously ginormous. I won't go as far as saying it's imperative the Spurs win tonight, but it would do them a world of good. Let's think about this:

-Losing tonight puts SA 4 games down in the loss column. Assuming SA goes 36-10 the rest of the season DET could lose 14 more games and still have home court, the deciding factor in last years Finals.

-Tony and Manu are only 1-1 in their new shoes. Going 1-2 could quite possibly ruin their shoes' confidence. The shoes could starting blaming themselves and lose focus. Knots could become unknotted, traction could become less tractionful. God forbid a sole gets blown out.

-Like it or not, the Spurs are not the most "mentally tough" team in the NBA. Don't get me wrong, the importance of "mental toughness" and "chemistry" is grossly exaggerated by the media and athletes alike. ATL could have Marie Curie as their coach and they would still suck.

C'mon now. That was pretty good. You gotta give that one to me.

Pop could impregnate Eva and the Spurs are still winning 55+ games. The game isn't 50% mental. This is easily proven by asking NBA players the fraction equivalent of 50%.

However, DET and SA are very evenly matched teams, but you would be hard pressed to find a DET player who doesn't think the Pistons are the better squad. I am sure they are still thinking "If Robert Horry doesn't have that miraculous game..." and "If we only had home court advantage..." And you know what? I bet the Spurs are thinking the same thing; knowing that while they were a great team last year, they were fortunate to come away with the title.

Of course I have no concrete proof. I cannot read minds. But when you watch a team enough you get a general feel. You remember frequent fourth quarter playoff collapses. You recall players choking on free throws and hesitating on jump shots. In a frustrated and pessimistic rage you ("you" being Matty da Blade, not me) write the following during Game 4 last year:

"It is halfway through the third and I have stopped watching the game. I hope I miss the greatest comeback since the "Memorial Day Miracle", but I seriously doubt it.

The Spurs are undoubtedly the most mentally fragile championship basketball team in the history of the NBA. Let me repeat for emphasis....THE SPURS ARE UNDOUBTEDLY THE MOST MENTALLY FRAGILE CHAMPIONSHIP BASKETBALL TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF THE NBA.

I cannot find any other rational explanation for this recent mini-implosion (nor others in the past). They are intimidated. They cannot dribble, catch, shoot, or execute fundamental NBA offensive sets. It is also pretty apparent that they don't know how to make adjustments through the course of play. Defense? What defense? Detroit is going to hang 100 on their sorry asses.

They play soft...this is what they do...they always have...and most likely always will. They... ... never defend their own (opting to play the "classy" card rather than stand up and defend their teammates by pushing back)..."

Now Matty will be the first to tell you he defaults to pessimism and tends to exaggerate. But there's some truth in what he said. Just ask Timmeh:

A loss tonight certainly does not spell the end for SA. But a win? A win would serve as reinforcement, a support level. A proclamation, allowing the Spurs to believe "When we have a healthy Manu and play like we're capable we're unstoppable..."

Tonight's line: SA -4.5
Tonight's total: 177
My picks: SA | Under
Matty da Blade's plays: pending