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NBA Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Cleveland

NBA Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Cleveland

NBA Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Cleveland
May 19th, 2007

(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 playoffs.

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 run.

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 sixth-seeded Nets.

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.

EDGE: PISTONS

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.

EDGE: PISTONS

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 per contest.

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 Cleveland's frontcourt.

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 garbage points.

EDGE: EVEN

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

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Re: NBA Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Cleveland

Pistons have a plan to stop the James Gang
May 19, 2007

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -For now, call it the LeBron Plan.

Years ago, the Detroit Pistons had a catchy name - ``Jordan Rules'' - to contain an NBA superstar. Now another star awaits in LeBron James.

``We've got a name for it,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders told The Associated Press on Saturday with a sly grin. ``But I'm not going to talk about it now. Maybe later.''

The Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers open the Eastern Conference finals Monday night. And while the name of the Pistons' plan may be under wraps, the strategy itself is not quite as mysterious.

Tayshaun Prince will be the primary defender, drawing his usual assignment against a star on the perimeter, but he will get plenty of help.

``It's going to be a collective effort,'' Saunders said.

Detroit wants to limit the number of times James has the ball in the lane.

``If you let him get to the basket, he can make plays for himself and other people,'' Saunders said.

When the Pistons are unsuccessful, they don't want him to enjoy bump-free paths to the basket.

``At this point, no matter who it is, he's going to get fouled hard going to the basket,'' Saunders said. ``You've seen that in the playoffs so far and as you extend in the playoffs, more is at stake. You might kind of like somebody the first game and the second game you kind of don't like them. By the fifth game, you hate them. That's just the playoffs.''

In last year's conference semifinals, Detroit trapped James, went over screens and under screens while sending waves of defenders at him. James managed to be spectacular at times but was stunted at others, including the second half of Game 7 when he made only one field goal.

``I've seen almost every defense that I could possibly see for the rest of my career in this series,'' James said on May 21, 2006. ``That's why they're Eastern Conference champions, and that's why they keep winning.''

A year later, the Pistons are still winning while the Cavs have won more in the playoffs than they have in more than a decade.

Cleveland beat New Jersey 88-72 Friday night, advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 1992 against a team that has been at least this far in five straight years.

James said experiencing playoff-style intensity against the Nets' Mikki Moore and Bostjan Nachbar prepared the Cavs for what they're about to face against the Pistons.

``We had a lot of physical plays, which is going to help us in the Detroit series because that's a very physical team,'' he said. ``I think that's going to help us get over the hump. But at the same time, it's a very great team we're playing.''

The Pistons want to do more than just test James physically. They want to confuse him by randomly alternating man-to-man and zone defenses while sending up to five different defenders toward him.

``I don't want to give out all our secrets,'' reserve guard Lindsey Hunter said. ``But we just want to make him work extremely hard and give him a lot of different looks to not let him get comfortable and settled in on how we're going to guard him. We want him to think and to tire him out.''

Detroit doesn't want to let James relax on defense, either, whether he's guarding Prince or somebody else.

``We want to go at LeBron,'' Saunders said. ``We've got to keep him on his heels.''

The Pistons hope they can keep their cool if James' stardom leads to favorable calls from the officials.

``We know he's going to get his love and go to the line, but we're going to make it hard for him,'' power forward Rasheed Wallace said. ``He can get 30, but he's going to have to put up like 30 shots.''

Detroit had the same mind-set entering its four straight playoff matchups with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from 1988-91 and that plan prevented him from reaching the NBA finals until his seventh season in the league.

Joe Dumars led the ``Jordan Rules'' as shooting guard back then. Now, he is Detroit's president of basketball operations.

``The game plan is the same,'' Dumars told the AP. ``We never leave one guy out there and say, 'It's your job to try to stop this guy.' We send five guys out with a mission to limit that particular guy.

``I don't know how many rules we have, but I do know that all five guys understand that it's their job as five to not leave Tayshaun or whoever it is out there by himself.''

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Re: NBA Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Cleveland

Capsule previews of the NBA's conference finals
May 19, 2007

Season series: Pistons, 3-1, by limiting the Cavaliers to 83 points per game. Cleveland's only victory came in overtime on March 7, when LeBron James scored a season-high 41 points in the Cavs' first win in Detroit in more than three years. Every Pistons starter averaged in double figures against Cleveland, while James scored 27 points per game.

Storyline: Back in the conference finals for the first time since 1992, Cleveland runs into a Detroit team that is here for the fifth year in a row. The Central Division rivals met in the second round last year, with the Pistons winning the final two games to take the series in seven.

Key Matchup I: Tayshaun Prince vs. James. Prince did a good job on Chicago's Luol Deng in the conference semifinals after Deng had torched Miami in the first round, but he couldn't slow James much in last year's series. New Jersey had some success when it turned James into a passer, but he might need to score big numbers in this round. Prince, who shot 52 percent and averaged 13 points this season against Cleveland, will try to make him work on the other end.

Key Matchup II: Antonio McDyess vs. Anderson Varejao. McDyess shot 65 percent and averaged 12 points in only 23 minutes per game against the Cavs. Varejao, also a reserve power forward, frustrated the Pistons in the series last year with his energy and toughness on the boards. Cleveland doesn't shoot a great percentage, but he can help them overcome that by hustling after loose balls to create extra possessions.

X-Factor: 3-point shooting. Detroit shot 25 percent from behind the arc against Cleveland, but the Cavs were even worse (10-for-52, 19 percent). Both teams play tough defense in the paint, and the best way to loosen them up is by hitting from the perimeter - if either team can. Rasheed Wallace (2-for-15) and Chauncey Billups (5-for-17) must do better, and the Cavs probably can't live with Larry Hughes (1-for-11) and Donyell Marshall (2-for-11) struggling the way they did in the regular season.

Prediction: Pistons in 6

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