by Jake Appleman and Russ Bengtson

You don’t come here for the numbers, right? You can get that sort of stuff elsewhere—the fact that Chris Duhon led all scorers with 25 points, or that the Knicks laid 65 first-half points on the Pistons, led by as much as 29, and beat them by 12 despite getting only nine points and 42 minutes out of their alleged bench.

You don’t need all that, right? Of course you don’t.

Welcome to Appleson 2008, Volume 1. The Apple part is in regular type, the son is in italics.

PREGAME

My first thought about this game—that I’m quick to share with everyone in sight—is that the Pistons are in trouble. A noon start? In NEW YORK? And this is before I even know that they’re already 0-5 on Sundays. All I know is that Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson would probably rather be anywhere else but an NBA locker room at 10:30 in the morning.

So right at 10:30 I walk into the Pistons locker room and discover—Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson.

Sheed, for his part, is plenty awake. He’s wearing a raggedy, almost-capri-cut, pair of navy blue adidas sweats with the pockets turned inside-out and a grey practice shirt and animatedly talking about the De La Hoya fight—acting out parts, backing up, fists clenched, into the bathroom door—with a select group of media. Detroit guys. Two pairs of AF1 highs, one baby blue, the other white with a black midsole, visible Air, and a red toe, sit in front of his spot.

AI is less active. He sits across the room, already in full uniform, in a white do-rag and sleeveless T. He’s watching a portable DVD player with headphones on and laughing out loud. I’m not sure what he’s watching, but the open CD case by his feet has Martin on top. He’s more or less oblivious to everyone else in the room.

In the meantime, Sheed’s poured himself a cup of tea, and sits there stirring it. Judging by his animatedness, this is not his first cup of the day. He pauses briefly from his boxing soliloquy to diss and dismiss Duke players (with a quick shot at UCLA—after all, Aaron Afflalo is just three seats away) before getting back to De La Hoya. And all of a sudden he’s back on his feet acting out the fight again.

Over on the Knicks side, Al Harrington cruises in around 10.50. He hangs his fur-lined parka in Stephon Marbury’s locker—which seems to have been co-opted for storage—and moves on to deal with tickets. James and Q Rich sit in their respective lockers and throw potential nicknames at him—James calls him “16 and 5″ for his output in one quarter. Also “Role Model”.

Following this spirited banter, James sees fit to spit an unexpected (and quite uncharacteristically profane) verse before declaring “I got freestyle for days.” No one dissents. Then, as if to prove it, he drops another directly on Anthony Roberson.

There’s lots of Knicks in the locker room, at least. James, Wilson Chandler (who’s claimed Z-Bo’s spacious corner locker), Q, Nate Robinson (injured, but doing a lengthy interview), Roberson. David Lee comes in for just a second. Chris Duhon wanders in with the newest in NBA accessories—Beats™ by Dr. Dre headphones. Half the Blazers had them last week, and a pair hang in Amir Johnson’s locker as well.

Jared Jeffries walks in—with no sign of a limp—and is immediately cornered by Jill Martin for an MSG interview. Apparently he just had X-rays. In the middle of the interview, both of them absorbed, Malik Rose fires a towel right between them. Jeffries jumps up laughing and shouting, and Nate is also supremely amused. It seems this is from some sort of ongoing escalation. Martin composes herself and resumes the interview when things settle down. Rose, unable to be the villain for long, apologizes.

Earlier in the morning Rose was working on threes. He hit three in a row from the right elbow, before Herb Williams stopped to give him pointers. It’s moments like that when I start to question my sanity.

It isn’t the weirdest thing that’s gone on this morning, though. Around 10:15, a full hour and 45 minutes before game time, most of the Pistons youngsters (and Kwame Brown) are on the court engaged in some sort of Gung Ho style calisthenics routine.

With an hour to go before the tip, the media once again surrounds Donnie Walsh, but the group is smaller. Perhaps the Exiled One’s story is fading in importance. Donnie’s being interrogated by a scruffy, leather-jacketed Marc Berman as others primarily spectate. Maybe Walsh will sign Zach Marbury just to get everyone to shut up.

–It’s a noon game at the Garden. This only means one thing: Bacon! Or at least it used to. Ham chips? No thanks. Though I’ll put one on my plate for the sake of the fallen pig. That’ll be do, pig. That’ll do.

Seriously? They’re like ham Pringles.

–#66 Haywoode Workman is workmaning the game as a referee along with #27 Dick Bavetta and #73 Ed Malloy. So let’s get this straight: A guy that used to play under a Donnie Walsh regime in Indiana is officiating a Sunday afternoon Knicks home game along with “Knick Bavetta”, in a contest played against the team that the guy’s former team is famous for brawling with. Gee, I hope this doesn’t bother any important, mild-mannered, road-weary Pistons like Richard Hamilton. I’m sure it’ll just be fine.

This is what we in the businesss like to call “foreshadowing.”

–Since it’s a matinée, all small children in attendance should be required to play “count the Knicks”, with the option of leaving out Jerome James. That’s only nine guys right there, and if you want your five-to-ten year old to make sure he/she passes through the no child left behind system, this might be a good practice. Practice, we talkin’ bout practice? Oh hey, there’s Allen Iverson. LOVE HIM. Really. [In my mind, I use an imaginary New York Rangers zamboni to spray some "it's only December" ice shavings at the AI-Billups trade haters, right though they may be.]

–Danilo Gallinari looks like a dapper bodyguard with the lights turned off.

He too, was out shooting early. Kid might have a low threshold for pain, but he’s also got a pretty jumpshot.

FIRST QUARTER

For some reason, the historical highlight video the Knicks play before introductions jumps straight from a Clyde Frazier steal and layup to the John Starks dunk on the Bulls. Twenty years of history, apparently irrelevant. Sorry Bernard King and Patrick Ewing. Kenny Walker? Who’s that?

I thought Amir Johnson was a starter for the Pistons, but apparently he’s been supplanted by Kwame Brown. Ouch. The only thing worse would be Curry telling Amir, “hey, you’re gonna come off the bench and we’ll just start with four guys.”

– The Knicks jump out to a 10-0 lead. This is reminiscent of the all-too familiar Sunday afternoon pickup game at the YMCA during which the geezers have a hard time getting their legs back, while the energetic youngsters take advantage. Often, during these tilts, the youngsters will become susceptible to overconfidence and end up losing, though the Pistons’ recent form would suggest otherwise.

– At 15-2, the Pistons are more iron than Robert Downey Jr. Meanwhile, Wilson Chandler is buckets. Talk about a building block. It sure would be swell if there was a SLAMonline Under the radarreader that was Photoshop savvy enough to cobble together the “high ceiling Wilson Chandelier.”

What the Pistons really need to do is use their 20-minute timeout. They have one of those, right?

– Chris Duhon makes it 18-6 with a beautiful, fundamental up-and-under move in the low block. Can we get a Devin Harris/Chris Duhon “NY PGs” SLAM cover already? Actually, maybe these guys are more fun under the radar.

– Even though, as Ben astutely points out, they’re not getting out in transition against a team that pushes the tempo, the Pistons are doing a decent job running their sets. They just can’t get a shot to fall. Short. Long. Near. Far. Soco & Lime.

Although we’re in New York, there are reminders of old Nets everywhere. Nate Robinson is in the tunnel, pedalling the Lucious Harris Memorial exercise bike. And Jared Jeffries enters the game channeling Villanova-era Kerry Kittles, with one sock high (covering his air cast) and one low.

David Duchovny is courtside. Were he still in character (Hank Moody) from Californication, one would assume that he’d have to have sex with the oldest-looking Knicks City Kid before getting punched in the face. (Note: please no season 2 Californication spoiler alerts, thanks.)

Being older, I tend to think the preposterously coiffed Duchovny is here to study The Knicks Files. I want to believe too, Fox.

SECOND QUARTER

– Will Bynum is called for traveling on a pretty crossover. The whistle comes from, surprise (!), Haywoode Workman. Nothing quite like a former point guard that didn’t have a crossover blowing a borderline whistle on a guy that will never get a star call in his career.

Bynum starts the quarter and immediately throws an intense press on Duhon. I like this kid already, although part of me wonders whether the Pistons keep him around just to have someone shorter than AI on the roster.

– The T-Mobile hot seat is featured on the jumbotron. Really? The T-Mobile hot seat? What did the general counsel at Budweiser have to say about this?

Iverson’s getting frustrated. He misses yet another shot and claps his hands with a wince. OK, that sounds weird. Claps his hands while wincing?

Jared Jeffries posts up Iverson with great position and still manages to commit an offensive foul. He’s one of the worst offensive players in the history of the game—D’Antoni should tell him to only look for points on putbacks when he catches the ball less than six inches from the rim. Any further out and bad things happen. And he’d be better off throwing the ball directly out of bounds than ever trying to dribble.

– Someone in our row points out that the Pistons are winless on Sunday so far this year. Damn, maybe the man/woman/being upstairs was just a big Billups fan.

The lead reaches 58-29, which is even more preposterous than Duchovny’s hair. It’s a marginally more reasonable 65-43 at the half.

THIRD QUARTER

As per usual, the starters start the second half. Except for Kwame, who’s replaced by Rodney Stuckey. Hey, it can’t hurt.

– Most of the quarter is spent mulling whether or not Jeff Van Gundy could clone himself and coach both the Pistons and the Sixers.

Apparently D’Antoni isn’t paying much attention either, as he turns to a lineup of Tim Thomas, Chandler, Lee, Jeffries and Duhon. Jake immediately dubs them “Duhon and the Tweeners.” I like it.

Taking one for the teamTim Thomas, holding the ball on the wing and guarded by Prince, suddenly turns to launch a jumper. Prince stuffs him like he were a Thanksgiving turkey.

Stuckey catches a pass up top, where he’s guarded by Jeffries. Sheed yells “TAKE HIM, TAKE HIM!” Stuckey does, absorbs the contact, and there’s no call. Sheed’s reaction is not subtle, nor is the resulting technical.

FOURTH QUARTER

– The Pistons have missed more bunnies today than a group of young children spending Easter at a Bat Mitzvah.

With nearly 11 minutes remaining, Rip Hamilton is invited to leave the game by Dick Bavetta. No, Rip, I insist.

– Walter Herrmann gets some action in the fourth. His one handed scoop is one of the most ridiculous looking shots I’ve ever seen. When I asked him why he did that afterwards, he said, “Look at my hands, they’re big.” Good for you, boludo. Good for you.

The Pistons cut the Knick lead to 5 with 5:40 to go, and again with 4:14, the Uptempo Collapse™ in full effect, but the fact that they can’t hit a shot to save their lives winds up being a factor. How’s that for analysis?

Shockingly, there’s a montage of all those clichéd “just win” movie moments with under 4 minutes left. In the Garden? Come on, New York, you’re better than that.

Tayshaun Prince, the only Piston starter who showed up and stuck around, dunks all over Al Harrington. Filthy.

You know, I don’t even think about Eddy Curry anymore? He’s been margarinized.

ANALYSIS

The Pistons are like the A- student that doesn’t feel like studying and the Knicks are like the B- student that loves the class and learning from their new, flashy teacher who makes learning fun.

I’d agree with Jake’s sentiment, except the Pistons are more B- and the Knicks are maybe a C. Good thing I’m not a teacher.

On the Detroit side, X-factor Sheed was ineffective; Rip struggled to keep his cool; AI’s 6-18 felt like 3-18 ;Jason Maxiell and and Amir Johnson were quiet; and Kwame was benched justifiably in the second half. Only Tayshaun Prince and Aaron Afflalo were noticeably good.

Agreed. Rip shot 7-12, but getting thrown out didn’t help his cause. Alex Acker gets the lone DNP-CD for the Pistons, and I don’t even know who he is or where he came from.

For the Knicks, Chris Duhon continues to impress, and the undermanned collective understood and executed their respective roles in D’Antoni’s system (12-24 from three…good cohesion on offense…good passes in key moments…resilience shown during the biggest moments of the patented Uptempo Collapse™.)

Also, D’Antoni’s in playoff mode—he only goes seven deep despite having nine in uniform. Maybe he saw Malik shooting those threes pregame. Tim Thomas and Jared Jeffries combine to shoot 3 of 12 and commit nine fouls in 42 minutes. Pungent bench.

Even so, it’s important to understand that the Pistons lost the game more than the Knicks won it, missing easy shots and letting extracurricular stuff get in the way of what could have been a big road win.

Rasheed Wallace now has a giant Egyptian backpiece to complement the tat on his arm. He also doesn’t have his own socks—I think the biggest part of longtime Piston trainer Mike Abdenour’s job is throwing ‘Sheed a fresh pair of NBA socks after every game. Does he throw them out when he gets home?

I’m gonna close with a quote because it worked for Edward Furlong in American History X. Well, it didn’t really work for him seeing that his character got shot to death in a school bathroom, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, Iverson is the last to talk. He speaks about effort, seemingly implying that some guys need to try harder. He expresses relief that it’s still December, stresses the need to leave this loss here and move on. He’s been through things like this before. “It’s just a bump in the road and we’ll get through it.”