CHICAGO -- You don't want to make too much out of this. The series, after all, is tied two games apiece and the Pistons still have home-court advantage, just as they did last year when they waxed the Bulls in six games. You don't want to start jumping to conclusions or reading between too many lines just because the Pistons lost two games on the road to a team that had the best home-court record in the conference.

But the evidence is piling up, and not all of it is circumstantial. Maybe the Detroit Pistons aren't the best team in the NBA anymore. It's not just that the Pistons lost two games in frightfully noisy Chicago Stadium this weekend. It's the way they lost.

It was Bill Laimbeer scoring one field goal in two games and getting benched. It was 21 turnovers against Chicago's relentlessly trapping defense. It was Chuck Daly becoming so exasperated with Laimbeer/James Edwards/John Salley that he looked down the bench and, before he could catch himself, put William Bedford in the game! It was Daly saying, "If Michael Jordan continues to do what he did this weekend over the next three games, they'll win the series."

On a day when Scottie Pippen didn't play the third quarter because of foul trouble; on a day Jordan scored no field goals in the third quarter; on a day the Pistons outrebounded the Bulls by 15; on a day the Pistons attempted and made 11 more foul shots; on a day Ed Nealy had twice as many turnovers as rebounds; and, on a day Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas combined for 50 points, the Pistons still couldn't win.

One way to look at this is that nothing really matters in the playoffs until you lose at home, which the Pistons haven't done. As Salley said: "We lost. Good team. Seven-games series. Got to take care of the home court." Or as Thomas said: "If we'd won one game here, it would have been like eating a snack. Home is dinner."

Another way to look at this is that the Bulls have momentum. They are playing better defense, their reserves are not being outplayed by more heralded counterparts, and the Bulls might be ahead by 3-1 in the series if His Highness hadn't fallen on his hip in Game 1 with Chicago ahead.

Daly, after Chicago's 108-101 victory Monday, did not sound like a coach who figured returning to his home court Wednesday night would solve all that's ailing his team.

The bench is what is puzzling him most. Mark Aguirre was zero for three from the field and was so pitiful handling the ball (three turnovers) that Daly sat him down for all but nine minutes. Vinnie Johnson missed six of nine shots, and Salley had almost as many fouls (six) as points (seven).

Asked about bringing in Bedford, Daly said: "I'm not a riverboat gambler but I'm about ready to try anything off our bench. Anybody who lets {Bill} Cartwright drive by you three straight times {as Edwards did}, is going to sit down."

If this were a case of the Pistons being disinterested, Daly perhaps could come forth with a tongue-lashing. But Daly thinks it runs deeper, at least that's what he says. "I'm fed up," he said. "We've had it a little bit too easy the whole year. Only once did I feel the need to talk to the team strongly {after a home-court loss to the Lakers late in the season}. . . . We haven't been faced with this kind of situation all year. We better decide if we want that title and how bad we want it."

Then Daly said something else. "I keep telling the Detroit media and the Detroit fans that any one of the four teams {Bulls, Trail Blazers, Suns, Pistons} can win the thing. I call it the winds of change. . . . The Bulls' intesity was absolutely amazing; they took us out of everything. They were not to be denied today."

Now, that's an admission. Not to be denied? That's the very foundation on which the Pistons are built: intensity and denying the opponent. The Pistons work you down to the floor until you submit.

Having said that, perhaps it's not as much what the Pistons aren't doing as what the Bulls are doing. Asked to recall the last time a defense trapped so much, so successfully, against his team, Daly said, "Never . . . never."

The Pistons are a perimeter team offensively. When they do go inside to Edwards, they need time to set up. But by the time the Pistons get the ball across midcourt against Chicago's frenzied defense, eight or nine seconds often have elapsed. By the time Detroit starts a play, 12 or 13 seconds remain, sometimes less. Sometimes they are so tired from getting the ball upcourt, they take the first decent shot available, usually from 20 feet.

Chicago has four players -- Jordan, Pippen, B.J. Armstrong and Horace Grant -- who are quick enough to double-team inside on one man and still get back out once the pass goes outside. Dennis Rodman is a great defensive player, but Jordan is his equal, as he showed Monday by blocking three Rodman shots, including a dunk attempt.

That defense helped Chicago make a second run, in the fourth quarter, after Detroit closed from 19 points to three. Last year the Bulls couldn't have made a second run. Last year the Pistons had Rick Mahorn. Last year, as Dumars pointed out, "they were probably just happy to be in the Eastern Conference finals. They feel like they belong now. And when you feel like you belong, you feel like you can win."

That's why Jordan stewed in silent anger last week, because he knew his team belonged. His teammates know now, as do the Pistons. This is a game Detroit felt sure it could take, but couldn't. The question, with this series reduced to best of three, is whether the defending champions still dictate the terms.