It's playoff time! This will also serve as a game thread, so get your groove on in the comments.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 66-16
Offensive Efficiency: 109.7 (4th)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.4 (3rd)
Detroit Pistons: 39-43
Offensive Efficiency: 104.5
Defensive Efficiency: 105.2
What a difference a year makes. In one year, the Cavaliers have gone from also-ran to prohibitive favorite to win the championship, having dominated the NBA from wire to wire. The Pistons, meanwhile, took the dynamite (acquired via trade) to the second best team in the NBA. Now, it’s time for Joe Dumars and Co. to take their medicine. The Cavaliers are among the best teams on both sides of the court, as the addition of Mo Williams and improved play of Delonte West have given LeBron the backcourt he needs to carry the Cavs to 66 wins.
PG – Rodney Stuckey Vs. Mo Williams
Mo Williams has gotten more credit than he deserves for the Cavs success this season. His all-star berth was largely a product of having replaced a paperweight at his position. Nonetheless, he is a perfect fit for the Cavs offense, and his blistering 44% accuracy from three point range punishes teams who look to pack it in against LeBron. It has also created open looks for the limited Delonte West. Stuckey’s season, on the other hand, has been uneven. His slashing style is a poor fit for the Michael Curry’s slow grind, which allows teams to get back on defense and man the lane. Both players are atypical point guards, averaging only nine APG between them.
SG – Rip Hamilton Vs. Delonte West
West hits open shots. As the Cavs 4th option, that’s all he needs to do. His real deficiencies are on the defensive end, so we can expect to see LeBron guarding Rip. That might not be such a bad thing, as Hamilton seems to be hitting his stride since AI’s departure. As Detroit’s number one deep threat, Hamilton has the potential to be the X Factor in this series. If he can get to 24-25 ppg, matching LeBron minute for minute, he could open up the offensive end for Detroit and put some pressure on the Cavs Superstar.
SF – Tayshaun Prince Vs. LeBron James
Contrary to popular belief, Tayshaun has historically done a pretty good job against LeBron, and this season was no different. LeBron averaged 25.8 ppg on 42% shooting. That 2.6 ppg and 7% under his season averages. With LeBron certain to get more minutes, Prince will need to step up his defensive game if the Pistons are going to have a shot. On offense, Prince should have a chance to get some nice looks at the basket, though history suggests the tough defensive matchup will take him out of his element offensively. As for LeBron, well, he had a pretty decent regular season.
PF: Rasheed Wallace Vs. Eleanor Varejao
Varejao is who he is, a "hustle" guy who throws himself at the basket and at defenders, and does a great job of convincingly propelling himself to the floor. It isn’t basketball, but it works. Rasheed had a down year this year, and I’m not sure he has the juice left to turn it on for the entire series. That’s a shame, because Sheed’s offense can carry this team, and his extended range should help keep the Cavs defense honest.
C: Antonio McDyess Vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Big Z doesn’t even get enough credit from his own fans, but he is one of the best starting centers in the league. This year, he even added a three point shot to his repertoire, albeit in limited attempts. Remember, it was Z’s barrage of contested 20 footers in game three that kept Cavs in the EC Finals two years ago. McDyess delivered another one of his patented second half performances this year, and Detroit will need his rebounding to neutralize this matchup.
Bench: Bynum, Spellcheck, Maxiell and Kwame Vs. Boobie, Smith, Szczerbiak and Wallace(?)
Much depends on whether Ben Wallace is up to 100%. If so, advantage Cavs. The Pistons have the personnel to dominate with their second unit. Unfortunately, Michael Curry has become addicted to Kwame Brown, which nullifies any advantage. Gibson has had a terrible season, though he was able to eviscerate Allen Iverson, which isn’t hard to do, obviously.
How we can take the series:
Show up in the 4th: The Pistons are the worst 4th quarter performers in the playoffs and, compare to overall play, probably the worst in the NBA. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Pistons carry a lead into the 4th quarter at least three times this series. Maybe Curry can sit down and have lunch with Tom Izzo, who could teach him how to run things like set plays.
Play uptempo: The Pistons actually tried this the last time these two teams met, and it was reasonably effective. It would have been moreso had Detroit been able to hit a shot. Getting out in the open court allows Detroit to take advantage of Cleveland’s weak defensive backcourt, their lack of a true point guard, Stuckey’s slashing ability, and Big Z’s (who had four points in that game) giantness.
Let LeBron get his…: The goal is to win games. Tay should be more than capable of holding LeBron to fewer than 30 points, and there is no sense letting Cleveland’s passel of three point shooters drain open shots.
But make him pay: Why sign a Kwame Brown if you don’t intend to use him? If LeBron wants to take four steps in the lane, and the refs won’t enforce it, well, that’s what hard fouls are for.
Potential Turning Point:
Game 2: I fully expect the Pistons to pull an MSU in game 1. If the score isn’t 32-12 at the end of one, Cavs fans should be worried. The key will be how the Pistons respond. Game 2 is a chance to sneak in a victory, and put the pressure on the Cavs to take one on the road.
Cavs in 5 – I fully expect the Pistons to win one, and I’m willing to bet most of these games will be surprisingly competitive. But Mike Brown has been here before, and Curry hasn’t. Oh, and Brown has LeBron. That helps.