Pistons Playoff Preview: This Could Be a Short Ride
Well, now the Pistons know who they will be playing in the first round of the playoffs.
Sadly, it is the team the Pistons are least built to play in the opening round.
Had Detroit won their last two games, they likely would be playing the Orlando Magic in the first round, a team that the Pistons have owned over the past several years.
Sure, Boston is the defending champion, but Kevin Garnett is dinged up and playing them in the first round would be the best time to play them.
Instead, the Pistons are stuck going up against LeBron James and the LeBrons, a team that has dominated Detroit this season.
So, what are the chances Detroit is able to pull off a huge upset and unseat the king?
About 5 percent.
This is true, but there are not a lot of similarities to this situation. The Warriors were an upstart team using an unconventional lineup and capitalizing on mismatches, and the Mavs were a team that had never won anything, and were depending on a star that has never been known as a clutch player.
OK, half of that situation is similar. The Cavs have never won anything, and their star player is not known as Michael Jordan in the clutch. But James does create his own offense, and offense for his teammates, while Dirk Nowitzki does not.
But this is not about the Cavs; this is entirely about the Pistons.
If this had been just about any other year, this matchup would be fine for Detroit. Cleveland is not unbeatable. Not even close. Their defense is good, but it is not better than the Boston defense of a year ago. Their offense is good, but it is not as good as the Lakers of this year or last.
They are a good basketball team composed of good role players and one great player. In a seven game series, anything can happen. Especially for a team that has never won before.
The Pistons, with their battle-tested veterans and talented young players, should give the Cavs a good match, right?
Actually, this will probably end with a sweep, and not the kind that Pistons fans like. This team is tired of this terrible season, and they just want to limp into the sunset. Furthermore, they do not have a coach that is capable of pulling them out of this malaise.
Michael Curry has painfully failed at the one aspect that was supposed to separate him from Flip Saunders: forcing the veterans to play hard every night.
When we were given Curry, we were told that he was going to whip our laurel-sitting vets back into shape, inspiring them to the old days of Larry Brown while inserting the younger players into the rotation in order to give the vets more breathers so they will be fresh for the playoffs.
Instead, this season has been a circus. Of course, the Allen Iverson situation was not Curry or any of the other Pistons' fault. But Iverson could have been handled differently. Curry, once it was clear that the small ball lineup was not working, should have placed Iverson on the bench but given him starting minutes.
Sure, it's possible that Iverson would have balked anyway, but from his perspective, he had a first time coach that was grasping at straws and trying to tear down his legacy. Had Curry approached this with more confidence, some problems might have been avoided.
A team with one of the best scoring guards of all-time coming off the bench would have given Detroit an ace in the hole, and thus they would have a shot at beating the LeBrons. However, that lineup would have likely led to more wins, and they would not have had to worry about the Cavs for another round or two.
Instead, a tired, old, miserable team and their (to be extremely kind) novice coach will probably only make the first game close. After that, they will likely be so overmatched and frustrated they will self-destruct.
Don't get me wrong, I would love to see the Pistons win. I am the biggest Detroit fan you are likely to encounter, but I know my team. They are ready for this year to be over.
For argument's sake, let's take a look at the matchups and what would have to happen in order for Detroit to steal a few games, or even the series.
This position represents one of the few interesting things about Cleveland. While they are basically a full-court team made up of athletic players, Zydrunas Ilgauskus is a lumbering giant, tailor-made for the half court.
Luckily, Detroit has a lot of big guys that they can throw at big Z. If Curry was smart, he would insert Kwame Brown into the starting lineup just to bang inside with Ilgauskus.
Instead, Rasheed Wallace will be forced to guard Ilgauskus, thus sapping some of his energy. This is a shame, since Wallace represents one of the true mismatches that Detroit has in their favor.
As a result, Wallace will likely park himself on the three-point line to conserve energy, thus negating the Pistons true post presence. In a lineup with Brown at the five spot, Wallace would shift over to power forward (or the bench) and frustrate the reckless Anderson Varejao. However, with Wallace at center, the advantage has to go slightly in Cleveland's favor.
Antonio McDyess has had a tremendous year for Detroit. He has seen his rebounding numbers jump to nearly 10 per game, the most he has picked up since the 2000-2001 season.
Varejao is a defensive-minded energy player that will crash the boards and run the court. McDyess will definitely be too much for the youngster, and if Curry is smart, he will run the pick and roll to death, and capitalize on McDyess' mid-range game. This advantage is Detroit's.
Obviously, this one goes to Cleveland, as their whole team is built around this position. However, the key to this matchup is Tayshaun Prince. Prince needs to force LeBron to play defense. While James has been anointed as the best player of all time by media pundits, one of the few weaknesses to his game is still his defensive ability.
Sure, James has shown flashes of brilliance on defense, but he needs to show that he can play an entire game with the focus and skill on both ends of the floor before he reaches Kobe Bryant, let alone his "Airness."
If Prince plays with aggressiveness on offense, it will force James to focus some energy on defense, as there is nobody in his starting lineup that can check Prince. If Curry is smart, he will get Prince involved early and often, putting him in isolation on the lower left box and running screens for him beneath the hoop.
Make James play defense, and you will open the door on a possible victory.
This represents the other obvious advantage for Detroit. Cleveland has a very small starting backcourt. We are talking Pistons in the 80s small. Of course, Rip Hamilton is known for playing smaller than his 6'7" body, due in large part to his slight frame, but Hamilton needs to take advantage of his height.
When Mo Williams is checking him, he needs to post up the smaller guard. When Delonte West is guarding him, Hamilton needs to resist the urge to post him up, as West is very strong for his size, and posting him up will just frustrate Rip. Instead, he needs to play his usual game of running off of screens and drawing contact.
For Detroit, in order to have a chance at winning, Hamilton needs to play amazing basketball. If Detroit wants to steal a few games, Hamilton will need to score at least 25 points per game. If Curry is smart, he will get the ball to Hamilton any chance he can, and give him carte blanche to shoot at any time.
For Cleveland, West and Daniel Gibson have found a niche that calls to mind the Grant Hill days in Detroit. Hill was the fasciliatator, and Lindsey Hunter and Joe Dumars camped out on the perimeter and launched jumpers. West and Gibson use James in the exact same way.
This is going to be an interesting matchup. Rodney Stuckey is bigger, stronger, and quicker than Williams. However, Williams has proven to be a dependable second scoring option for Cleveland. Williams can penetrate and shoot, and Detroit will have their hands full with him.
However, Stuckey has the size to give Williams trouble defensively, and the quickness to keep the point guard in front of him on offense.
But Stuckey has been inconsistent during the season, and at times he is prone to needless turnovers. In order for Detroit to have a shot, Stuckey will need to limit his mistakes and play within himself while running the offense and penetrating to set up his teammates.
So, no pressure, youngster!
If Stuckey plays the way he is capable of, he will give his team a chance at an upset. He needs to make this position an advantage for Detroit; if the position is even or goes in Cleveland's favor, the Cavs will sweep the Pistons.
Cleveland has decent size on their bench, and they have players that can shoot the lights out. They have scorers and defenders, and most importantly, they have experience. What they likely will not have is Ben Wallace, so there is some cause for hope.
Detroit's bench is comprised almost exclusively of young, but talented players. Mainly, their bench players are known for their defensive skill, but there are some scorers in the bunch as well.
Many will say that the wild card for Detroit will be Will Bynum, and they may be correct. Bynum has shown a knack for scoring during crunch time over the past month, and he seems to know how to set up his teammates. However, Cleveland's guards are aptly suited to shut down Bynum.
The real key for Detroit's bench will be Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson. If those two can provide a defensive spark and an ability to chase down loose balls and offensive rebounds, they could change the Pistons' prospects.
Overall, however, this appears to be an advantage for Cleveland.
So is there reason for optimism? Yes, but not for the reason you may be thinking. This is a perfect opportunity for Stuckey to assert himself as the leader of this team, and gain valuable experience.
This experience is paramount in order for Detroit to make a smooth transition from the Chauncey Billups era to the new era. This new era will be given a strong boost by what will likely be a lively offseason.
If Detroit is able to pick up a star front court player like Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh, they will be in a position to catapult back up the Eastern Conference ladder.
By taking the reins and putting together an inspiring postseason performance, Stuckey can give the Pistons reason for hope, and some momentum heading towards next season.
That may be enough to get Wallace to re-sign for a much smaller number, giving Detroit a very strong roster composed equally of young and experienced players.
So, chin up, Pistons fans: There is reason for optimism regarding the future.
Just not the immediate future. Cavs in a sweep.
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