Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Detroit (1) vs. Miami (2)

This series was the one most people predicted at the start of the season, and especially after Artest went on "sabbatical" leading to Indiana's semi-implosion, these two teams were on a beeline throughout the regular season to meet to see who is the King of the East. This rematch of last year's very competitive Conf. Finals, could be a replay, especially after the way The Heat improved their play in the 2nd round after looking vulnerable in the 1st round. While the Pistons seem a little bit more vulnerable then they showed in the reg. season after a putrid offensive showing vs. the Cavs.

The Pistons' offense needs to get back to running Hamilton off of screens more often, which has been the cornerstone of their identity for the last couple years. They really did not feature this enough vs. the Cavs, and I think it was a big reason for them never buliding up a consistent rhythm offensively in the series, besides Game 1. The Pistons also have the luxury of having 3 guys who are some of the best post-up options at their respective positions: Rasheed, Prince, & Billups. I think all 3 guys need to be milked down low cause they have a distinct advantage over their opposing defender. I thought that the Heat needed to get more size at the 4-spot over the summer, specifically cause Haslem's giving up too much height to Sheed. It cost the Heat in Game 7 last year, where Sheed used his length to get a big board & bucket late over Haslem. Billups needs to be much more assertive offensively vs. Miami than he was in the Cavs' series. Also, Flip needs to call Prince's number on the right block, so to make Ant Walker work as much as possible defensively (something he's not to fond of). Billups needs to look for more dribble penetration, especially vs. the shaky Heat perimeter defense, and he needs to just look to abuse Jason Williams as much as possible, especially with some post-ups. Another angle that I think Flip needs to examine is playing McDyess more often in the place of Big Ben. I know Ben does alot of the invaluable dirty work, but he does not make Shaq work on defense at all. I would love to see Sheed & McDyess playing together alot, so Shaq has to make a decision on who to guard, and both guys need to be guarded at least up to 15 feet. This can lead to more precarious pick/rolls for Shaq to be involved in, something he despises. I thought McDyess did a surprisingly good job on Shaq last year, so having him in place of Ben might not be as big of a problem defensively as imagined.

Defensively for the Pistons, they are going from having to gear their defense around one superstar to two. Dealing with Shaq is priority number one for Detroit. The Pistons do have the luxury of throwing 5 different vets with good size at Shaq. Big Ben will get the majority of the minutes on O'Neal, but Sheed and McDyess will get their cracks at him as well. Along with rotating Ben, Sheed, & McDyess on Shaq, Flip will more than likely shake the cobwebs off Dale Davis and Kel Cato in the series. The only reason for these guys being on the Detroit roster is for the sole purpose of them using their alloted 6 fouls on Shaq every game. I think even with this collection of solid defensive bigs, the Pistons will still need to send doubles at Shaq a fair amount. Even as good as Ben is, Shaq still can manhandle him during stretches of the game (Shaq ate him up pretty good one-on-one in the 2004 finals). I still think every game you go into vs. the Heat, you have to force the Heat role players to prove they can hit their perimeter shots. With Wade, I think Prince gets the main assignment, while Flip has the ability to throw different looks to possibly disrupt Wade's rhythm with the likes of Billups, Rip, & Hunter, who can harass Wade for limited minutes.

Main objection for the Heat offense in this series, is the same as any--get the ball into Shaq as much as possible. Make the Pistons' defense make decisions, make them decide if they need to double, hopefully leaving great open looks for the role players & Wade. I think Wade needs to look to attack and create with his dribble like he did vs. the Nets--he did a wonderful job of creating shots for himself & his teammates. Like it was in the Nets' series, the play of the Heat secondary guys could be the key tipping point of the series. Shaq & Wade will probably get their numbers, but Walker, Haslem, Posey, Williams, & Payton need to give solid support, especially shooting the open perimeter jumpers that will sure to be created by the defense collapsing on Shaq & Wade. Walker really needs to carryover his good shooting in the Nets' series into the Conf. Finals, too take pressure off the doubles that come onto Shaq & Wade.

The Pistons are as tough as any team to defend in the NBA cause they can hurt you in a variety ways--multiple guys who can post, Rip's mid-range game, good 3pt. shooting overall, Sheed's inside/outside ability, pick/rolls with Billups. The Heat defense looked alright, not great, vs. the Nets after looking very shaky vs. the Bulls. There is one thing for certain that the Heat need to do--they can come off of Big Ben as much as possible. This usually means that Shaq needs to be extra active off the ball, especially helping Haslem with Sheed. I know its dubious asking alot of movement & effort from Shaq but I think it will be needed. I expect to see more Mourning in the series to bring some activity on the defensive end and possibly play with Shaq as to put more size on Sheed.

After the 1st round, I would have thought this series would have been a foregone conclusion for the Pistons, that's why I even picked the Nets to beat the Heat. But after the way both teams played in the 2nd round, I am expecting a much more competitive series, like the one I expected at the start of the year. The Heat defense rebounded to an average level in Round 2 after a pretty dismal performance in Round 1. While on the other hand, the Pistons' defense is not the problem, it was their offense that suffered badly in Round 2. I totally expect Detroit to regain some semblance of consistency offensively in this series, but if they don't, the Heat will capitalize on this alot easier than the Cavs could. I don't think the Heat defense will be good enough to deal with all the options of the Pistons. While I still feel uneasy about the Heat role players providing the aid that is required night-in, night-out, even though they played well vs. the Nets.


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