NBA Playoff Preview – Detroit vs. Cleveland
(Sports Network) – The top-seeded Detroit Pistons attempt to advance to the
NBA Finals for the third time in the last four years, as they battle the
second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.
This is the second time that these teams have met in the postseason. Last
year, the Pistons knocked out Cleveland in seven games in the East semis. The
Cavaliers led the series 3-2, but lost Game 6, 84-82, at home and were then
eliminated in Game 7, 79-61, at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Pistons have made it to the Eastern Conference finals for the
fifth straight year and 10th time in franchise history. They played Boston
in 1987 and 1988, Chicago in 1989, 1990 and 1991, New Jersey in 2003,
Indiana in 2004 and Miami in 2005 and 2006. Detroit is 5-4 in this round.
Detroit won its fifth Central Division title in the past six seasons during
the 2006-07 campaign. The top-seeded Pistons, who have reached the postseason
for a sixth straight year, fell in six games against the Heat in last year’s
Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons are the No. 1 seed for the third time
in four years and have owned home-court advantage throughout the East
In round one, the Pistons swept Dwight Howard and No. 8 Orlando, 4-0. The
conference semifinals proved to be a tougher, as the fifth-seeded Bulls
pushed Detroit to six games. The Pistons won the first three games of the set,
but Chicago bounced back and captured the next two contests before being
eliminated 95-85 in Game 6 at the United Center.
All-Stars Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton continue to shine this time of
year. Billups leads the Pistons in scoring (20.5 ppg) and assists (7.0 apg) in
the postseason, while Hamilton, who was the teams leading scorer during the
regular season, is averaging 18.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
The unsung hero of the Pistons Tayshaun Prince continues to do it all. He
is averaging 17.3 points, 6.6 boards and 3.3 assists while also playing
excellent defense. The volatile Rasheed Wallace has contributed 14.5 points
and 8.0 rebounds per game and has made big shots throughout Detroit’s playoff
Head coach Flip Saunders has guided the Pistons to the East finals for the
second straight year. Before he was hired by Detroit, Saunders spent nine-plus
years with the Minnesota Timberwolves and helped the squad to eight straight
playoff appearances. He also coached the Timberwolves to a franchise-best
58-24 mark in the 2003-04 campaign and guided the club to the Western
Conference finals against the Lakers, who defeated Minnesota in six games. The
third time in a conference finals could be the charm for Saunders, who became
the general of the Pistons on July 21, 2005.
Cleveland has made it to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in
franchise history, and is 0-2 in this round. The Cavaliers fell in six games
to Boston in 1976 and the Bulls in 1992.
The Cavaliers earned their first sweep in franchise history in the opening
round of this year’s playoffs, as they knocked out No. 7 Washington, 4-0. In
the East semis, Cleveland needed six games to eliminate Jason Kidd and the
Superstar LeBron James, as expected, has been the leader of the Cavaliers
impressive run through the playoffs. He leads the team in scoring (25.9 ppg)
and assists (8.1 apg) in the postseason. James, who has also grabbed 7.8
rebounds per game, is shooting 42.4 percent from the field, including 29.3
percent from beyond the arc.
The 22-year-old James, who is playing in just his second NBA postseason, has
received some help from his teammates in the postseason. Larry Hughes is
averaging 15.9 points, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas has posted 14.3 points and a
team-best 9.8 boards per game for the Cavaliers.
Head coach Mike Brown, who completed his second campaign on the Cavaliers’
bench, continues to do an excellent job. Brown, who earned a championship ring
as an assistant with San Antonio in 2003, is 15-8 in the postseason.
During the regular season, the Pistons won three of the four meetings. Detroit
won a pair at Quicken Loans Arena, and split two contests with the Cavaliers
at The Palace.
STARTING FRONTCOURT: Prince, Wallace and Webber, who is averaging 8.9 points
and 6.6 boards, have played well and continue to do what is expected of them.
Prince needs to continue to his stellar play on defense and do a lot of the
dirty work, while Wallace and Webber have to knock down their outside jumpers
to help open up the inside and create space.
If Wallace and Webber are effective from the perimeter, it will allow
Hamilton and Prince to slip in on the baseline and get some easy points. The
Pistons frontcourt is very effective passing the ball in the high post, which
allows them to get some easy buckets off of back doors.
James has been doing a great job teammates involved, which has taken a lot
pressure off him. Brown knows LeBron needs help and has figured out how to
mesh James’ unbelievable talent with his other players. The fact remains, the
Cavaliers are going only as far as James can take them.
Drew Gooden, who is averaging 12.2 points and 9.7 rebounds in the playoffs,
and Ilgauskas team with LeBron to give the Cavaliers an excellent frontcourt.
Both Gooden and Ilgauskas are effective from 15-feet and in, but Brown needs
them to do their best work around the hoop.
The Cavaliers had the advantage here in rounds one and two, but it’s not the
same in the East finals. Prince will make James work for everything, while
Wallace and Webber are threats from the perimeter, which will pull Ilgauskas
and Gooden away from the basket. James will need to be at his best every game
if the Cavaliers hope to have a chance in this series.
STARTING BACKCOURT: Billups and Hamilton are All-Stars and are arguably the
best backcourt in the NBA. Both players can do it all and live for this time
of year. They are solid defenders, and control the offensive flow and tempo
for the Pistons. Billups and Hamilton are as good as it gets.
Brown continues to use Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic as his starting backcourt.
Hughes is versatile, plays solid defense and is effective in transition, while
the 6-7 Pavlovic, who is averaging 8.9 points in the postseason, is tough to
matchup with because of his size.
Billups and Hamilton are just too tough for the Cavaliers’ backcourt. The 6-5
Hughes and Pavlovic will try and bully Detroit’s All-Star tandem with their
size, but that won’t work.
Very tough matchup for Cleveland.
BENCH: Veteran forward Antonio McDyess gives Saunders flexibility up front.
McDyess can play alongside Wallace or Webber. He is averaging 5.8 points and
8.4 rebounds and has played big minutes for Detroit in the playoffs.
Besides McDyess, the Pistons have not received much production off the bench.
Center Dale Davis and guard Ronald Murray have not seen much action, while
Carlos Delfino has played in all 10 playoffs games and has logged 10 minutes
Forward Donyell Marshall came alive in Game 6 against New Jersey for the
Cavaliers. He made six threes and finished with 18 points. However, Marshall
is only averaging 3.8 points in the playoffs. If Marshall can continue to
produce, it will be a big boost and will help take some pressure off of
Daniel Gibson is athletic and can play both guard spots for the Cavaliers,
while veteran point guard Eric Snow adds important experience. When big man
Anderson Varejao is on the court, he is expected to bang down low and get
PREDICTION: The Pistons return to the NBA Finals. James has taken another
important step in getting Cleveland closer to the championship round. The
playoff-tested Pistons are not a good matchup for the improving Cavaliers.
PISTONS IN FIVE