Wayne Embry calls it, "Giving a great player a chance."

That's what the former Cavaliers general manager has been thinking as he has watched his old team in the NBA playoffs.

"I've been telling people not to be surprised if the Cavaliers beat the (Detroit) Pistons," said Embry, now a consultant with the Toronto Raptors.

The goal?

"Just keep the game close," he said. "Think about (the old Cavaliers), and all the problems we used to have with a No. 23. We had a lot of good players; they had the great one."

Embry was talking of Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls' megastar, who tormented the fine Cavaliers teams of Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and coach Lenny Wilkens in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Now, it's LeBron James in No. 23 for the Cavaliers, a team that has won 16 of its past 18 games decided by four or fewer points as it heads to The Palace of Auburn Hills for Game 5 of this best-of-seven series, which is tied 2-2.

Think about the first-round series victory over the Washington Wizards: The Cavaliers won three times by a single point, twice in overtime.

Think about the second round against the Pistons: In both home games, the Cavaliers were behind heading into the fourth quarter but rallied to win. The key was not being way, way behind.

Think about James, how he has been the most dominating player on the floor against the Pistons and the Wizards. He is averaging 30.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists in 10 playoff games.

Think about this: The Cavaliers can lose to the Pistons tonight and still win the series.

"A great player gives you that chance," Embry said.

Cavaliers fans need to keep that in mind, because the Pistons should be the heavy favorite tonight. They are playing on a court where they have a 42-4 record this season. As this series has demonstrated, the home court is an enormous advantage.

It's very possible that the Cavaliers will lose tonight and come back to win Game 6 at home Friday...

Setting up Game 7 on Sunday in Auburn Hills.

Yes, the Pistons would be at home, but they seem shocked to find themselves in a grueling series with the Cavaliers. They seemed to think that the NBA Finals are an entitlement, having been there the previous two seasons.

Take a Game 7 in Detroit - or even a Game 5 - in which the score is tight, and the Cavaliers have James, and suddenly, the pressure can smother the home team. It doesn't happen to a playoff-tested team such as the Pistons often, but it's also rare that they encounter a rising star the magnitude of James.

Consider what is happening in this Cavaliers playoff march.

They lost Game 2 at home to the Wizards, then won three out of four to put the series away. They prevailed twice on the road. They grew tougher with each game.

Next was a trip to Detroit, fewer than 48 hours after the overtime victory at Washington that wrapped up the series.

The Cavaliers emotionally were drained and shocked by the determined Pistons' defense. It was such a contrast to the Let's Run, Gun And Have Some Fun approach of the wacky, No-D Wizards.

It seemed to take the Cavaliers nearly seven quarters to adjust, but in the fourth quarter of what became a 97-91 loss in Game 2, the Cavaliers rallied and outscored the Pistons 31-19.

In the fourth quarter of Game 3, it was 33-21.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4, it was 21-13.

Add it up, and the Cavaliers have outscored the Pistons 85-53 in the last quarter of those three games!

"That's what happens with great players," Embry said. "They close it out, and they inspire the other guys to play better. Look at how Eric Snow (12 points) started driving to the basket in Game 4. Or how Donyell Marshal started to hit some 3s, and that Brazilian kid (Anderson Varejao) is all over the place. But it all starts with No. 23."

Something else has been impressive.

"That kid on the bench is making adjustments. He has really shown me something," Embry said.

The "kid" is 36-year-old Mike Brown, and it might be time to stop calling him a rookie coach. He won 50 games in the regular season. He has guided the Cavaliers past the Wizards and into what now amounts to a fascinating best-of-three series with the Pistons.

Brown has kept his team together after the two losses in Detroit and through the death of Justin Hughes, the brother of guard Larry Hughes. The starter has missed the past two games to be with his family - and the Cavaliers won without him.

"Give him credit for taking (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) out at the end of some of these games," Embry said. "He's reading the matchups the right way, and not trying to force anything."

The 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas has struggled on offense because of his own state of mind in the playoffs - missing open shots and conceding that he has been nervous. Defensively, the Pistons rarely have an inside, low-post game. It makes little sense for Ilgauskas to be on the court in key parts of the game because he will appear slow and out of position on defense.

Instead, the quicker Varejao has stunned the Pistons with his rebounding, defense and fierce drives to the basket.

The Cavaliers have won games by scores of 121-120 and 114-113 over the Wizards and by 86-77 and 74-72 over the Pistons.

"That says a lot," Embry said. "They can win either style. That's why I really think they can upset Detroit. They are getting better all the time."

Pluto is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal. He can be reached via email at terrypluto2003@yahoo.com.

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