Still think this wasn't meant to be?

Both teams play inside a system. Pop has one; L.B. has another. Each system has the same origin, the same lineage. If you listen to any player on either team, the first word out of his mouth is "defense."

Transition defense vs. half-court defense. Both got that. Yet both teams can put 115 on the books if necessary. (Game 2 against each other this season: 110-101 Detroit.)

Ball movement. Both do that. Each team has five players who can score in double figures in every game. Yet both can grind out wins scoring 80, too, if necessary. (Game 1: 80-77 San Antonio.)p>

Both teams are injury-free and have no excuses. Both, too, are unfortunately tagged with the most irritating cliché in professional sports: They play the game the right way .

And as different as their styles might look on the court, the Pistons and the Spurs play the same way, rely on the same philosophy and garner the same results.


What they each have that isn't fraternal …

Fans in SBC, polite and loyal. Fans in the Palace, wild and loyal.

Both teams are tougher than they were a year ago. One team overachieved (beating Phoenix in five), while the other played better when its back was against the wall (beating Miami without home-court advantage in seven). One was built with trades and free agency, the other with original draft choices. One has a roster full of players whose previous teams didn't believe in them, while the other has a roster full of players who have been the belief of only one organization.

The Pistons have flipped uniforms four times in the last 10 years; the Spurs wear the same unis Gervin wore in the ABA.

The differences are drastic. Yet in the mirror, the Pistons and the Spurs only see one another.


Are you the best? Or am I?

That's the question they ask each other when they look in the mirror and see the other. Who is the best basketball team in existence?

Them? Or them?

It began with the Olympics. The destiny of these two teams' making it to this point, to meet each other, to look and see each other in the mirror, was shaped the minute the United States became the victim of God's plan to humble American basketball.

Roy Willams, an assistant in Athens, won the NCAA championship. Twisted karma. Now, L.B. and Pop, head coach and assistant, respectively, at the Olympics last summer, get the chance to find that same peace.

God knows that not being the best in the world is a heavy burden to carry here, especially when the coaches of the last two teams to win the world championships are considered partially responsible for the status of American basketball until 2008.

But this is about the best in the world. And who that is.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons were meant to be here for reasons that are bigger than the fact that they are the two best teams in the NBA.

Their meeting is a part of the restoration needed for a coaching staff (and a country) to have a better summer in 2005 than they (and we) did last year.

Whoever wins this series will restore, somewhat, the sense of superiority of American basketball, without having to face the world to do it. Because once this is all over, two of the three coaches who got outcoached in Athens, whose team got outplayed in Greece 10 months ago, will have won the two biggest prizes in American basketball.



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