Cavs/Pistons Series Preview
IF only there was some good news for Detroit.
The Cavs are the No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history, and this year marks the team’s fourth consecutive postseason appearance. For the Cavs the road to the ring still runs through Detroit, but the ride won’t be as bumpy as it has been in the past. That’ll probably come later if they don’t take the Pistons down in four-straight.
Man what a difference a year makes! Last year the Celtics were the juggernaut but with Garnett out the Cavs are now the 800-pound gorilla with a monkey on their back in the form of the deplorable Pistons who haven’t been firing on all cylinders since the 30-point-plus beat down LeBron put on ‘em in the summer of 2007. It was so bad Joe Dumars pulled a “Steinbrenner” and put his most valuable assets (Billups, Saunders) up for sale and now look at the mess their in: seven-straight 50-win seasons snapped with their record of six consecutive conference finals appearances in serious jeopardy. Now that Iverson’s out the only question that remains is how long they can put up the good fight?
Even with the triumvirate of Hamilton, Prince and Wallace the Piston’s don’t stand a chance in hell. But hell it will be for the Cavs if the Pistons manage to take even one of the two opening games in Cleveland. The Pistons are probably the most dangerous below .500 team ever to be in the Playoffs because of the collective experience of their three veteran starters who led their squad to against the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Magic victories on the road this year. And even though they’ve suffered some humiliating losses at home this year don’t expect them to roll over even if they’re down to especially if the fans at the Palace really get behind them. But that’s a big if…
IF Tayshaun Prince (or anybody else for that matter) can slow LeBron down and frustrate him into some of the mistakes that were characteristic of his immaturity from a couple of years ago, it’ll put more pressure on his other teammates to come up big. But like I said that’s a big if. Bron has been superlative, and has rarely displayed any chinks in his armor this year. He is the 800-pound gorilla! And Prince is gonna have his hands full yet again defensively which will put a crimp on his offensive contribution;
IF Rasheed Wallace can get into an offensive groove and hit consistently from the outside, it’ll offset the advantage Cleveland has defensively when Zydrunas Ilgauskas camps out down low. But that’s a really big “if” since the only fire Sheed’s consistently shown is when he screams on refs in frustration at the sideshow his career has become of late with the arrival and departure of AI;
IF Rip Hamilton doesn’t get shook and go into a shooting slump like he inevitably does at some point in the Playoffs. Maybe that’s my bias snaking out but when Rip goes cold it has a chilling effect on the rest of the offense and stalls them out. If he has to help out with Bron (or vice versa) well then it’s a distinct possibility.
IF Mo Williams chokes on his lack of postseason experience then Rodney Stuckey might be in luck. Stuckey’s only been in the League a year now, but he still has considerable postseason experience relatively speaking. He’s averaging 13 and 5, but against the Cavs his numbers drop considerably to 7 and 3. It seems like the more minutes he plays, the less effective and productive he becomes. He usually has an advantage over opposing point guards because of his speed, but he’s outmatched against Williams who’s pretty quick himself and possesses way more range than Stuckey.
The odd man out is Antonio McDyess. On paper his double-double average in points and rebounds is better than Varejao’s solid contribution of 9 points and 7 boards, but I figure Varejao’s energy and all-around hustle trumps his opponent’s sluggish demeanor. Ultimately it was Varejao who put the Cavs in a position to knock off the Pistons in 2007 when he faked the funk, and McDyess (who was playing like a man possessed at the time and looked to be on the verge of another relatively monster game) was ejected, thus taking away a much needed offensive option for a squad that historically has struggled to put up big numbers.
I don’t know why I’m being so cautious, the Cavs hold the advantage at nearly every position, even the bench where the Cavs are deep: Gibson, Szczerbiak, Smith, Pavlovic and Ben Wallace? Granted, they aren’t putting up any serious numbers, and Ben Wallace is day-to-day due to a nagging knee injury their presence is more felt than what the Pistons have when it comes to depth.
OK, maybe not. With the exception of Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson disappointing seasons, the Piston’s bench has held their own with Will Bynum leading the charge. Walter Herrmann may be the butt of a lotta jokes but he has the potential of sneaking up and contributing significantly when least expected. Which is like, all the time. Aaron Afflalo is another bright spot but his record against Cleveland is nearly nonexistent.
The biggest factor besides the presence of LBJ is the absence of AI. Without him the Pistons don’t have anyone else who can compensate for his 18 points and 5 assists. His presence alone counts for a lot even though the Pistons never really found a way to win with him in the 54 games he played with the team this season. He averaged 18 points against the Cavs this year, but it was of no consequence three out of the four games of the series. So his absence may be of no consequence. It’s too much to think about without me going off the deep end… the $20 million blown, Billups leading the revitalized new improved Nuggets, etc, etc….
I’ve been a fan of the Pistons ever since they played at Cobo Arena and the games were free and getting traded to Detroit was like being banished to exile in Siberia, but I’ve seen the writing on the wall since 2005 when their defensive schemes went a long way in generating points for the offense. The last time the Pistons averaged 100 points in a season, I can’t even recall. Was there ever such a time? Their defense is nowhere what it was when they won it all in 2004. It’s steadily degenerated since then and it’s been too painful to watch. And that’s saying a lot because they still held their opponents to under 100 this year, but they also held themselves to 92 ppg.
The Cavs on the other hand, don’t have a production problem. They average 100 ppg while limiting their opponents to 91. James leads the team in all categories. Next come Williams, Z and West. They all post healthy figures, and don’t seem to have a problem generating offense and their defense is stingier than an AIG exec before and after the bailout. It’s like looking at a reversal of fortune. The Cavs are nearly at the place the Pistons were a few years ago. I don’t even know why I’m wasting words trying to convince you when it’s clear the Cavs got it on lock.
But you never know…
But still, I don’t think the Pistons are upset-minded enough if the end of this season is any indication. Even the Knocks had more initiative when it came to screwing up the seeds at the end of the season.
The Cavs’ll take it in four…they better. If they don’t, they’ll pay the price heading into the next round bruised and battered against a better-equipped and motivated opponent.