Capsule previews of the NBA's second-round playoff series Print
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Friday, 04 May 2007 14:42
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 A look at the matchups in the second round of the NBA playoffs, which begin Saturday (with regular-season record, first-round series mark in parentheses):
EASTERN CONFERENCE
No. 1 DETROIT PISTONS (53-29, 4-0) vs. No. 5 CHICAGO BULLS (49-33, 4-0)
Season Series: Bulls, 3-1, winning the season series for the first time since 1998 and missing a sweep only because Chris Webber tipped in a missed shot with 2.2 seconds left in Detroit's 95-93 home victory on Feb. 25. The Pistons were held to fewer than 90 points in all three losses. Luol Deng averaged 22.7 points in Chicago's victories and Ben Wallace grabbed 33 rebounds in the two wins in which he played, only eight in the loss.
Storyline: A pair of first-round sweeps gave the Central Division rivals plenty of time off before Wallace's return to Detroit. The former Pistons center signed with Chicago as a free agent last summer, then helped the Bulls win a playoff series for the first time since Michael Jordan's final season in Chicago.
Key matchup I: Webber vs. Wallace. Wallace's rebounding and defense were the catalysts for Detroit's recent Eastern Conference powerhouses. But with the Pistons becoming more offensive minded under Flip Saunders, Webber is in some ways a better fit because of his passing and outside shooting ability.
Key matchup II: Tayshaun Prince vs. Luol Deng. Miami couldn't guard Deng, who averaged 26.3 points and shot 58 percent from the field in the first round. But the Heat had nobody as good as Prince, a second-team all-defensive pick who has plenty of postseason experience guarding the opponent's top offensive threat.
X-factor: Wallace's free throw shooting. Big Ben was so bad from the line in the 2006 playoffs - making just 27 percent - that he became an offensive liability in the conference finals loss to Miami. So, the Pistons must have been stunned to see him deal the Heat's repeat hopes a final blow by going 7-for-8 in Game 4 of Chicago's sweep.
Prediction: Bulls in 7.
WESTERN CONFERENCE
No. 2 PHOENIX SUNS (61-21, 4-1) vs. No. 3 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (58-24, 4-1)
Season Series: Spurs, 2-1, with the home team winning each time. Spurs held Amare Stoudemire to 15.5 points per game in their two wins, but he had 24 points and 23 rebounds in the lone Phoenix victory. Tim Duncan averaged 22.7 points and 14 rebounds, and Tony Parker scored 28 points per game. Steve Nash had only seven assists in San Antonio's 92-85 victory last month, one of the Suns' worst offensive performances of the season.
Storyline: With Dallas running away with the league's best record, the teams with the second- and third-best records are forced to meet in a second-round clash of styles. With all-defensive team selections Duncan and Bruce Bowen, San Antonio has the personnel to slow the Suns' league-best offense. The Spurs overpowered Phoenix in five games in the 2005 conference finals, but the Suns want credit for how much their defense has improved - and now is their chance to earn it.
Key matchup I: Stoudemire vs. Duncan. The Spurs couldn't stop Stoudemire in the playoff series two years ago, as he averaged 37 points and scored 42 in Game 5. Duncan and whoever else San Antonio uses this time will surely make things tougher, and the Suns never proved they could contain Duncan at the other end this season.
Key matchup II: Leandro Barbosa vs. Manu Ginobili. A pair of game changers who finished 1-2 in voting for league's sixth man award. Barbosa averaged 21.2 points in the first-round victory over the Lakers, but his speed may be more important this time on the defensive end if Nash struggles to keep up with Parker.
X-factor: Boris Diaw. In a fairly disappointing season for the 2006 Most Improved Player, Diaw scored 16 points in the lone Phoenix win but totaled 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting in the other two games. If San Antonio is successful in keeping it a half-court game, Diaw could have an important role.
Prediction: Suns in 7.
 

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