DETROIT -- The NBA has a big problem, maybe an insolvable one: the Home Court Advantage. What was once an interesting edge has become an obnoxious monster. You could hear and see The Thing here on Tuesday in The Palace, a.k.a. The Bad House.

Detroit called time with 6:58 to play and a 90-80 deficit to Portland. Then the Pistons sent 21,454 substitutes to the scorer's table all at once.


"Throw your hands up and . . .


The public address system played the 1959 rocker by the Isley Brothers at incredible volume. A pair of Blues Brothers imitators went to center court and paid raucous homage to John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Four scantily clad women did an act for which, 25 years ago, they'd have been arrested -- even in Detroit.

The huge screen above center court showed a machine for measuring noise. The crowd, egged on by grading its decibel score, pushed the needle into the red (hearing may be impaired) range.

The crowd won the game. As usual. No doubt about it. Portland played better. Detroit won. That's been the story of these NBA playoffs.

The home team's record in this year's postseason is almost unbelievable: 55-13. And this is in what are, basically, even matchups between strong teams. We know who's going to win before the tip. In sports, nothing's worse.

Isiah Thomas was the visible instrument of the Palace's collective will in Game 1. "I got an energy burst from somewhere," said Thomas, who scored 16 points in seven minutes to key the 105-99 victory. "Earlier, I was missing layups because I just didn't have enough energy to get it to the hole. But the crowd got into it and I fed off them."

Thomas, like most great NBA players, can take over the closing minutes of a game -- at home. On the road, he's seldom done it.

How does the NBA home- court phenomenon work and how does it differ from other pro sports, none of which is so cursed? Just listen to the players.

"The crowd was behind us in the fourth quarter and really helped push us on," said Detroit's Bill Laimbeer.

Defense is mostly intensity. Or intensity plus the assumption that the referees will let you get away with murder. As they usually do when you're at home.

In the last seven minutes, Detroit probably committed 743 fouls. Maybe two were called. Clyde Drexler would drive and all five Pistons would hit him at some point. No call. Brick. "Bad shot selection" is the euphemism for a mugging.

"We got a championship- team-whistle called {against us} down the stretch," said Portland's Jerome Kersey, not even complaining since the Trail Blazers fully expect the same courtesy back in Oregon. "At the end, they were holding and pushing, and nothing was called. You're not going to get baby calls with the game on the line in their place, and there's nothing you can do about it."

As a result, road teams wait for the ax to fall. By anticipating disaster, they precipitate it. "When Isiah hit those {long} shots, it kind of took the wind out of us," said Kersey. "{Then} we missed easy shots."

Any athlete knows that emotions ambush you so suddenly and with such force that, once you're in the grip of psychological forces, you almost feel helpless.

"It reminded me of many championship series," said Pistons Coach Chuck Daly. "Fatigue takes over and it becomes a test of wills."

In a test of wills, would it help to have 21,454 people with you, plus a sense of endangered territoriality? In football and baseball, the crowd is not nearly so close or so loud. In open-air parks, the very floor does not vibrate. Only once, for instance, has a World Series been contaminated by a basketball-like setting. In 1987, the Minnesota Twins won in the enclosed Homerdome in the only Series in a century in which the home team won every game.

Already in these NBA series, there have been two seven-game series with all-home winners, as well as a 5-0 series. The Trail Blazers, ironically, have been the ultimate example of the phenomenon. They have actually been outscored, and some would say outplayed, in their last two series, but the home court has saved them and pushed them into the finals.

The Spurs crushed Portland all three times in San Antonio, by 48 points. In Portland, the Trail Blazers had to salvage two wins in overtime. But that was enough.

Then, against Phoenix, Portland won its three home games by a total of only nine points.

In Phoenix, however, the Trail Blazers got squashed twice, trailing one game by 46 points. Portland probably only won Game 6 on the road because Phoenix's Kevin Johnson was hurt.

These finals in the Year of the Home Court have a special irony. Both Detroit and Portland won 59 games. The Pistons got the vital home-court edge on the ludicrously arbitrary basis of a better conference record -- better by .009.

What's the long-term solution?

Play Games 5, 6 and 7 on a neutral court? Sounds lousy.

Prohibit home teams from inciting the crowd in any way? Un-American, we say.

Create a 50-foot demilitarized zone between the court and the nearest fan? Holy Joker, Batman. Where would Jack Nicholson sit?

Spot the visiting team eight points? Statistically, that's what it would take this year. Hosts have won by an average of 8.01 points a game. From one site to the other, that's a 16-point swing.

The NBA probably shouldn't do any of the above. The league's home court problem has always been annoying, but bearable. Let's wait. Maybe this is a one-year fluke. Maybe Portland, which looked strong Tuesday, will even oblige by winning Game 2.

However, if the trend of '90 becomes the NBA's curse of the decade, this blooming and thrilling sport may someday have to think about radical solutions. A sport that's won 80 percent of the time by the home team simply isn't worth watching.