- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It took only one conference finals weekend to deliver another major disparity in that game we've played all season called "The East Ain't The West."
Yet in the East, Detroit is still quite dangerous even with a half-speed Rasheed Wallace. Whereas Minnesota has no chance to topple the Lakers in the West, or even to stretch the Lakers to six games, if Sam Cassell keeps dragging.
Yup. It's a different world over here. In the East, you can see a team take a 1-0 deficit into Game 2, as Detroit will Monday, but also hear an outrageous guarantee from the hobbler who didn't have the mobility to stay with Jeff Foster, much less Jermaine O'Neal.
"They will not win Game 2, and you heard that from me," 'Sheed announced Saturday night after watching Foster share the hero mantle with Reggie Miller in the Pacers' 78-74 triumph.
"Put it front page, back page, middle of the page," 'Sheed continued, making you wonder what he plans to say if the Pacers do win.
"They will not win Game 2."
'Sheed then receded into Both Teams Played Hard mode, repeating the same answer to the next few questions he allowed, no matter what the questions were: "They will not win Game 2."
And, as a signoff: "They will not win Game 2."
It was a bold rant under any circumstances, but far bolder when you consider that 'Sheed's Game 1 contributions were, at best, on the subtle side. He had two blocks in Detroit's seven-swat first quarter, when the Pistons established a quick nine-point lead by contesting every Indiana shot. He was part of the group effort that hounded O'Neal into 7-for-20 shooting.
What do you think about Sheed's bold rant? Way too cocky? Finally a player with passion?
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'Sheed finished with four points and seven boards, along with 1-for-7 shooting.
One late layup, one offensive rebound and one screen to free Miller for the killer three were all Foster needed to totally trump 'Sheed's output. At least until postgame interviews started.
"The guy's not 100 percent," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "You've seen the kid play. ... He's got no lift. He's got no balance."
Said swingman Tayshaun Prince: "I think on defense he played great, but we noticed [the limited mobility] tonight."
Added frontline partner Ben Wallace: "Rasheed is definitely affected by his injury -- he's too proud to admit it."
The injury is a dreaded case of plantar fasciitis in Rasheed Wallace's left heel. In this case, it's dreaded because, besides being the sort of injury that can linger for months, it threatens to negate the Pistons' main advantage in this series.
Detroit was supposed to be reveling in the presence of two Wallaces down low to outnumber O'Neal. Unless the heel starts to heal unexpectedly, and quickly, O'Neal might not miss Brad Miller in this series as much as the Pacers once feared.
Brown originally was praying for a longer layover before this series simply to get 'Sheed some extra rest. Brown says he has since "gotten signals" that playing every other day might somehow help Wallace now, before quickly admitting that he's really just guessing at this point.
The solace, though, is that a virtual no-show from 'Sheed didn't wreck the Pistons, like it would have in the West. Like the Wolves trying to play in the fourth quarter with Cassell unable to leave the bench.
Unlike the West -- where the Wolves would need a healthy Cassell and Troy Hudson given how the Lakers are rolling now -- this series should stay sufficiently low-scoring to keep Detroit right there, even if Ben is going to be the Wallace who sees more of the ball offensively.
Brown, for one, is convinced that the Pistons' insistence on hoisting a mess of hurried long balls after Miller's triple -- Detroit's final five shots were all errant 3-pointers -- cost the visitors far more than 'Sheed's struggles.
"That's been our M.O. in close games," Brown said soberly.
The Pacers, meanwhile, stretched their home win streak to 14 games and declined to offer a hint of pity for their old coach. Not with O'Neal fresh off a nice poke in the eye, Ron Artest playing with his thumb taped and Al Harrington short of breath after a 14-point first half that also included a shot to the ribs. They'd certainly rather beat the Pistons at full strength, but they're not about to apologize for taking advantage of 'Sheed's situation.
The Pacers, remember, are trying to win a Ring For Reggie, as the T-shirts in town say. No matter how it comes.
"I know it's frustrating for him," Billups said of 'Sheed's state. "I know how he feels. It's frustrating to be on this kind of stage and not be full strength."
Especially on an Eastern Conference stage, when you're supposed to be the only team over here with Western Conference size.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss