The Detroit Pistons are in need of some therapy, some serious emotional healing, and they need it quickly.
"It's just not very much fun to do this job right now," Coach Larry Brown said after his team's 92-76 loss in Cleveland on Wednesday.
The Detroit Pistons have lost three of four and five of the last seven.
Brown believes the team is still heartsick over the brawl last Friday at The Palace. That, combined with the NBA's emphasis on calling more fouls and the absence of Ben Wallace, has sent his team into a deep funk.
"Our whole mentality has been down," Brown said. "With the way the season started and the new rules and emphasis, and the way the refs are calling games it's affecting us, and obviously Friday has affected everybody. And it's not going to be something that goes away."
That's a frightening thought.
If it doesn't go away, if the Detroit Pistons don't figure out a way to get over it, their run as champions will be brief.
"Nobody is happy about all of that," Chauncey Billups said, when asked if the brawl was having lingering effects. "Every time you turn on the TV, it's that. They're beating us down and we didn't even fight. That could contribute to some of this.
"When something bad like that happens, it makes you put things into perspective and it takes the fun away from all of this."
Billups knows, though, that in the long run, that is a cop-out. He knows the Pistons have overcome bigger obstacles. He knows they can't allow themselves to be defeated emotionally by one freak incident.
"We have to pick up the pieces, man," he said.
Here's what needs to be understood: The Detroit Pistons aren't the villains in this case. The Pacers, guilty by association to Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, are the so-called bad boys in this instance.
They crossed the line.
They went into the stands.
They drew the harshest penalties.
Yes, it was horrible for our city -- the entire metropolitan area (fans can't celebrate a championship and call them Detroit Pistons, then wash their hands of them and say they represent the suburbs when something like this happens).
We will bear, if not the blame, then certainly the stain of it forever.
Remember the parade down Woodward Avenue? Remember the feeling that the Detroit Pistons had somehow helped unite and galvanize the city?
It hurts to realize how fragile those bonds were.
But this is no longer a Pistons' issue, or a Detroit issue. It has taken on a much broader scope, including but not limited to, the widening cultural divide between player and fan, the disproportionate role of sports and the overall lack of civility in our society.
Meanwhile, though, the games keep coming.
Like Antonio McDyess said: "Time is still ticking. We have to keep playing."
Listen, people debated all these issues before the brawl, and they will continue to debate them long after the noise from this incident dissipates.
The Detroit Pistons have to stop taking it as a personal indictment. It's not.
They aren't a thug team. Nobody here is complaining about their multimillion dollar salaries. They aren't the embodiment of "what's wrong with professional sports today."
These are classy, hard-working, over-achieving professional athletes.
All this post-brawl noise isn't about them, and they can't use it as an excuse to play dispassionately.
The Pacers are playing without their top three scorers and they continue to win. They don't seem to be feeling sorry for themselves or taking it personally.
It's hard to believe something like what happened last Friday can take away a player's passion for playing a game they've loved all their lives. If anything, you would think the incident would inspire them to raise their level of play and help shift the nation's focus back to the competition.
That's still the essence of what this is all about -- competition.
Now, losing, that's no fun, and that might be more at the root of the Detroit Pistons' blues than the brawl.
"We need to look at ourselves," Billups said. "We need to look in the mirror and say, 'What am I doing? What am I not doing that I was doing to help us last year?' We still think we're the best team, even though we're not looking like it right now. We look like one of the worst right now. But, it'll change."
There really is only one cure, only one way to shift the focus back to the game.
"Winning, man," Billups said. "Winning can cure darn near anything."