CHICAGO -- Here's a little something for the Pistons and Bulls to keep in mind over the next couple of years: If you are going to be true rivals, you can't share hugs and handshakes after the final buzzer of the final game. You can't go an entire series without even the slightest hint of a physical confrontation. You can't break bread with the enemy at fancy restaurants, and you cannot toss softball zingers at each other via text messages.
No contempt on court for rivals
The Pistons and Bulls of the late '80s and early '90s had all that one major rivalry-defining dynamic going for them. These guys do not.
So if this is ever going to truly be a rekindled rivalry, there's still a long way to go before this has the possibility of becoming the NBA equivalent of mixing vinegar and baking soda.
I stopped Pistons president Joe Dumars outside the visiting locker room after the Pistons finished off the Bulls Thursday night with as 95-85 victory in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal and questioned him about the lack of animosity between these two teams.
Dumars, for those of you who may be too young to remember, was a member of the infamous Pistons team that stormed off the court in the waning seconds of Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals without so much as acknowledging the team that had just swept them to end a three-year string of playoff failures at the Pistons' hands -- a 4-1 Detroit win in 1988, a 4-2 victory in 1989, and 4-3 victory in 1990.
I asked Dumars, whose Pistons teams when he was playing also went to five straight conference finals, when the animosity between those old rivals began to be felt.
"When it became clear that they were about to surpass us. Before that it was tough, physical games, but what happens is, as soon as one team is about to surpass another team, I think you see the intensity pick up there," Dumars said.
There were certainly moments of intensity on display during this series, but too often the intensity was coming from one team but not the other. And even in Game 6 when the Pistons were closing out this series by holding Chicago to just one field goal over the first 9:51 of the fourth period, there was intensity from both teams -- only it was two completely different types. Detroit was intent on shutting down Chicago, whereas the Bulls' intensity channeled itself into players trying too hard and making the types of mental mistakes that exemplified the teams' vastly different levels of postseason maturity.
Or to put it in fewer words: when the Pistons went for the kill, they killed. When the Bulls tried desperately to stay alive, they drowned.
"I think you can have a good rivalry without the animosity, as long as you have great basketball," Dumars said. "I'm a fan of what they do and how they've built, what [John] Paxson has done, how [Scott] Skiles coaches and how hard they play. So I think we have the makings of a rivalry, and what I think you're going to continue to see two teams that mirror each other. Both play hard, both play unselfish."
Pistons assistant coach Ron Harper said there actually was some bad blood being felt by the Pistons toward Kirk Hinrich and Andres Nocioni, even though there was still plenty of love for departed Piston Ben Wallace.
"The game has changed, and it's not like you can just go out there and hate a team. It ain't the same game," Harper said. "[Animosity] is still there some of the time, but it isn't there all the time."
So, Ron, who do the Pistons hate?
"Cleveland. We don't like Cleveland. That series is going to be fun."
That series, if it indeed ends up being a Cavs-Pistons Eastern Conference final (Cleveland leads New Jersey 3-2, with Game 6 set for Friday night) will begin Monday night unless the Cavaliers-Nets series is extended to seven games, in which case it will begin Wednesday. It'll be the fifth consecutive trip to the conference finals for the Pistons, who were clearly the class of this series despite the let-up that allowed the Bulls to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win two games.
It got the Pistons' attention, and it forced them to regain the focus and energy that served them so well through the first seven games of this postseason when they looked completely capable of storming through the Eastern playoffs with a 12-0 record. You could see that intensity in the way Richard Hamilton defended Hinrich, in the way Chauncey Billups attacked on offense, in the way Rasheed Wallace lost and regained and then lost and regained control of his emotions, for the most part channeling his frustrations into the type of positive energy that fueled Detroit's fourth-quarter lockdown.
We'll have to wait and see where their heads are at in the next series, but we've seen how good they can be when they apply themselves, and it's pretty darn impressive. They'll be the favorite to come out of the East and make the finals, and they'll have an old friend (but not a new rival, at least not yet) watching from the northern suburbs of Chicago.
"Watching them? Yeah. Cheering for them? I'm not cheering for nobody," Ben Wallace said afterward, not entirely convincingly.
Clearly, he still likes the Pistons. What's not clear yet is whether he'll ever dislike them enough -- or vice versa -- to truly make this a rekindled rivalry.
As Dumars said afterward, the animosity doesn't come until the hunter catches up to the hunted, and based on the way these teams looked in this series, that day may still be a at least a couple years away.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Andres Nocioni, left, and Ben Wallace watch their Bulls fall to a Detroit team en route to its fifth straight East finals.
Q: What'll be the first order of business for the Bulls now?
A: Waiting for Tuesday's draft lottery. The Bulls own the rights to the New York Knicks' lottery pick from the Eddy Curry trade. It's a prohibitive long shot with Chicago having only 19 of 1,000 ping-pong ball combinations (Memphis, by comparison, has 250), but it's not completely impossible, for the Bulls to win the No. 1 or No. 2 pick. (The lottery determines the top three picks, not just the No. 1 pick.) But if the Bulls get the first or second pick, all bets are off as far as possible trades, because Greg Oden or Kevin Durant fits the bill as the missing piece.
Kyle (Phoenix, AZ): It sure does seem like teams are full of chumps. The Suns only run like 8 deep. Is there a huge difference in talent/chemistry between "players" and bench warmers in the NBA? Either way, Shouldn't you club Pat Burke's knees or something and get a spot back on that bench? Better yet, smack some in Dallas so you can have the hotter cheerleaders to keep you company.
Paul Shirley: Pat Burke is a really, really good basketball player. People forget, but when players at his level--like Bostjan Nachbar and Walter Herrmann--are given a chance, they can almost always play. I'm sure Matt Barnes was ridiculed for a long time; he played in the ABA when I was there. It doesn't make sense, though, to play those guys when a team has invested $15 million in someone else. That's not to say that Pat Burke is better than Amare Stoudemire. But he's certainly not 1/15th as good.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Bulls center P.J. Brown erupted for a season-high 20 points in the first half alone. Then, nada. Brown missed all three of his second-half shots.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Chauncey Billups was at his best controlling the ball in the final stages of the Pistons' victory over the Bulls. Billups made all 14 of his free-throw attempts in the game, including six in the last two minutes of the game.
It was the third playoff game in which Billups has made at least 14 free throws without a miss, and that tied an NBA record. Two other players had three such playoff games: Dolph Schayes with the Syracuse Nationals in the 1950s and Kevin Johnson with Phoenix from 1989 to 1992.
It looks like this year's Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, is shaping up to be one of the best ever.
The Eurocamp has evolved into the international equivalent of the Chicago predraft camp and takes place on June 9-12. Past participants include two lottery picks from last year: Andrea Bargnani and Mouhamed Sene.
This year two potential first-round prospects, Italy's Marco Belinelli and the Ukraine's Kyrylo Fesenko, are committed to camp. They'll be joined by several other potential draftees, including Finland's Petteri Koponen, Russia's Nikita Shabalkin, Portugal's Joao Gomes and France's Ali Traore. Australia's Brad Newley also looks like he'll be playing.
The camp usually includes a number of top prospects for the following year's draft, and this year is no exception.
France's Nicolas Batum and Italy's Danilo Gallinari, potential lottery picks in 2008, will be at the camp. So will Russia's Anton Ponkrashov, Serbia's Vladimir Dasic and Lithuania's Mantas Kalnietis.
Ben Wallace showed up at the arena about 1 hour, 15 minutes before tipoff -- just as he did before Game 3 -- and Chris Duhon and Ben Gordon were a few minutes late. Players are supposed to be there 90 minutes before the game. Bulls coach Scott Skiles shrugged it off, saying, "It took (general manager John Paxson) well over an hour to get down here."
• The Pistons shot 13-of-22 from the field in the first quarter.
• The Bulls made their first 14 free throws but then struggled, finishing 24-of-35.
• Bulls center PJ Brown had a season-high 19 points against the Pistons on Feb. 25, and Golden State on Feb. 9.
-- Associated Press