Capsule previews of the NBA's conference finals Print
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Saturday, 19 May 2007 07:54
NBA Headline News

 A look at the NBA conference finals, which start Sunday (with regular-season record, playoff mark in parentheses):
EASTERN CONFERENCE
No. 1 DETROIT PISTONS (53-29, 8-2) vs. No. 2 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (50-32, 8-2)
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.
WESTERN CONFERENCE
No. 3 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (58-24, 8-3) vs. No. 4 UTAH JAZZ (51-31, 8-4)
Season series: Tied, 2-2, with the Spurs extending their home winning streak against Utah to 16 games by winning both meetings in San Antonio. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker each averaged 21.5 points, with Duncan adding 11.3 rebounds per game. The Jazz held Manu Ginobili to 25 percent shooting. The Jazz limited the Spurs to 85.5 points per game in their two victories, but San Antonio averaged 104 at home.
Storyline: With the top two winners in the West gone, the longtime conference powers meet for a spot in the NBA finals. The Spurs are looking to reach the finals for the third time in five years, while the Jazz haven't been this far since 1998. Utah has won 11 of the 15 playoff series between the teams.
Key Matchup I: Duncan vs. Carlos Boozer. Duncan remains as good as it gets at power forward, but Boozer isn't far behind. However, Boozer managed only 16.7 points on 49 percent shooting in three games against San Antonio this season, well below the regular-season numbers that landed him on the All-Star team.
Key Matchup II: Bruce Bowen vs. Andrei Kirilenko. Bowen was at his best against Phoenix in the second round, annoying the Suns with his in-your-face defense and hitting some timely 3-pointers when left open. If the confused-looking Kirilenko from the first round shows up in this series, Utah is in trouble. But if he plays the way he did against Golden State, when he scored in double figures in every game while playing his terrific all-around defense, the Jazz will be in much better shape. Bad news for Utah fans: He averaged only 8.8 points and shot under 30 percent against the Spurs this season.
X-Factor: Derek Fisher. His return to the team after attending to his daughter's serious illness was an inspiration to the Jazz, and he added some timely 3-pointers and strong defense on Baron Davis. He'll probably be asked to slow Parker, and Spurs fans don't need to be reminded that he's a clutch playoff performer: His game-winning jumper for the Lakers in Game 5 of the 2004 West semifinals at San Antonio was perhaps the decisive blow in the Spurs' hopes to repeat that season.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.
 

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