Gene Shue, coach of the woeful Clippers, has a fondness for the underdog.
And Shue, who has rebuilt some of the worst teams in the National Basketball Assn., predicts that an underdog will dethrone the Boston Celtics, gunning for their fifth straight trip to the NBA finals, in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"I'm going to go with a longshot," Shue said when asked to pick the Eastern champion. "I'm going to go with the Detroit Pistons."
The Pistons, though, won a team-record 54 games on the way to their first division title in 31 years and aren't exactly a longshot.
Detroit pushed the Celtics to seven games in the 1987 Eastern Conference final and might have beaten Boston if point guard Isiah Thomas hadn't tossed away a win in Game 5 when he threw a pass to Larry Bird.
"I don't think you can assume we'll be in the Eastern Conference final," Thomas said. "Every team is stronger. It's very premature to assume that the Detroit Pistons basketball team will make it to the Eastern Conference final. The Boston Celtics have proven that they belong, that they'll be in the Eastern finals. The Detroit Pistons have to prove they will."
The only question mark for the Pistons is the health of power forward Rick Mahorn, who sat out 13 games with lower back strain this season.
The Pistons, however, got an easy first-round opponent in the Washington Bullets, who stumbled into the playoffs on the next-to-last day of the regular season with a 38-44 record. Detroit swept Washington in three games last season.
Wes Unseld did a remarkable coaching job in taking the Bullets to the playoffs after replacing Kevin Loughery in January, but Unseld will need an even bigger miracle to get his team past the first round.
If the Pistons are to win the Eastern title, however, they'll have to find a way to win in Boston, where they have lost 22 consecutive games at the Garden.
"Detroit came close to beating Boston last year, and they had a good season this year," Shue said. "They have a good core of players. They can beat you with outside shooting and they can beat you one-on-one. They play a lot of isolation basketball, which is important in the playoffs.
"The Pistons are my team. I think they're going to come out of the East.
"But you can't write off the Celtics because they have the best player in the game. Any team that has Larry Bird and Kevin McHale has a shot. And they have a good supporting cast."
Although some NBA insiders predicted the demise of the Celtics at the start of the season, they didn't crack and finished with a 57-25 record. It was the best mark in the conference, although it was Boston's worst record in nine seasons.
The Celtics were hoping that Bill Walton could be activated for the playoffs, but the oft-injured center still hasn't recovered from foot surgery and remains on the injured list, although he began working out with the team last month.
Still, the Celtics appear to be in much better shape than they were at this point last season.
For one, McHale, who limped through the playoffs with a bad foot that forced him to undergo surgery after the finals, is fit again.
And the Celtics also have a better bench than they did last season, when they were forced to rely on reserves such as center Greg Kite, since exiled to the Clippers.
The Celtics also got a relatively easy first-round draw in the physical New York Knicks, who finished with a 38-44 record under rookie Coach Rick Pitino and are making their first playoff appearance in four years. Boston won five of six games from New York in the regular season.
If the Celtics and the Pistons falter, the Chicago Bulls, who won 50 games for the first time in 14 years, might have a shot at winning the Eastern title.
After being ousted from the playoffs by the Celtics in the first round during the last two seasons, the Bulls have improved because they have built a better supporting cast around Michael Jordan.
Jordan averaged 35 points in winning his second straight scoring title this season, but with the emergence of power forward Charles Oakley, the Bulls are no longer a solo act.
The Bulls, who beat the Celtics, 115-108, as Jordan scored 46 points in Sunday's regular-season finale at Chicago, came from behind to overtake the Atlanta Hawks as the third-seeded team in the East. That moved the Bulls out of the Celtics' bracket this season, so the only place those teams can meet is in the conference final.
Still, Chicago faces a stiff first-round test in the Cleveland Cavaliers, who finished at 42-40 and clinched their first playoff spot in three years with a 107-103 victory over the Bulls last Friday. Cleveland, which compiled its best overall record in 10 seasons, split six games with Chicago.