By LARRY LAGE
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Flip Saunders insists his Minnesota Timberwolves were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs seven times in eight years because the other teams were simply better.
If the first-year Detroit coach can't help the Pistons stunt Cleveland's momentum in their second-round series, it will be difficult to explain the early exit the same way.
The Cavaliers have sensational forward LeBron James, but the Pistons seem to have more talent and experience at every other position.
It just didn't look that way the past two games in Cleveland. The Cavaliers beat Detroit 74-72 and 86-77 to even the series after being routed in Game 1 and rallying to lose Game 2 by six points. Gamtoesday night in suburban Detroit.
The series shifted in the third quarter of Game 3 when rookie head coach Mike Brown changed the momentum with an adjustment.
The Cavaliers started to switch on pick-and-roll plays, leaving bigger players defending guards and smaller players guarding post players. The Pistons and their coaches haven't countered aggressively, leading to a lackluster offense that set NBA playoff lows with 33.3 percent shooting and 72 points Monday night.
Just as he said in an easy first-round series against Milwaukee, Saunders says the Pistons are playing more against themselves than Cleveland.
"The Cavaliers are doing things, but we're still beating ourselves in a lot of areas," Saunders said nonchalantly Tuesday.
Brown said the biggest adjustment didn't involve X's and O's as the Cavaliers suddenly evened a series that some thought was essentially over.
"Even though it's corny, we played hard for close to 48 minutes," Brown said.
After beating the Pistons in a second straight game, the Cavaliers flew to St. Louis to attend the funeral of Justin Hughes, the 20-year-old brother of teammate Larry Hughes. The shooting guard has missed the past two games to be with his family following the death of his brother, who was born with a heart defect and had a transplant in 1997.
The Cavaliers arrived together by bus at the New Sunnymount Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. The team then traveled to Detroit, arriving Tuesday afternoon.
Brown said Tuesday afternoon that there was no timetable for Hughes' return, and bristled at the notion that the Cavaliers are better off without him after he missed much of the season with a finger injury.
"We are not a better team without Larry Hughes, let's get that straight," Brown said. "But we played a lot of games without him, and we figured out ways to win."
Cleveland guard Damon Jones is confident the Cavaliers will find a way to focus on the game.
"We put basketball in perspective for one day," Jones said. "We were there to help out one of our family members go through a tough time. We're also professional enough to understand we have a task at hand tomorrow."
Rasheed Wallace's guarantee that the Cavaliers were playing their last home game backfired, but Detroit's boisterous forward hasn't backed off his cocky rhetoric.
"We'll definitely clean them up here at home," said Wallace, who expects to play after turning his ankle Monday night. "They're playing good ball, but I still don't think they have enough to beat us in the series."
Wallace and key reserve Antonio McDyess were on the bench late in Game 4, a decision Saunders defended and Wallace didn't have a problem with a day later.
"I'm not doubting or going against what he's doing as the coach, because he is the coach," Wallace said. "I'm still rolling with it.
"It's 2-2. We're not down. And, I know we're going to win it."