Monday, May 21, 2007

East Conf. Finals Preview (Pistons-Cavs)

- Rematch of the surprisingly competitive East Conf. Semifinals of last year. Some folks might see a repeat of last year's series where the Cavs extended the Pistons to the limit, but I'm not really seeing it. Last year the Pistons seemed disinterested with the Cavs and after they won the first 2 games, it seemed like the Pistons went on cruise-control mode for the rest of the series, and it nearly cost them. This year they seem to be much more focused, and they have played as well as they ever have on both ends of the floor lately.

- The Pistons' defense has played extremely well all year, and are probably playing better than they were at the same time last year, even without Big Ben. And they've been playing a lot of zone lately, and probably play the best zone in the NBA. And this should be a key factor in this series, since the Cavs have some major problems vs. zones/packed-in man (See Nets series).

- For any team playing the Cavs, the M.O. is to pack the defense around the lane to cut off Bron's driving lanes. Combine this formula with just doubling/trapping Bron to get the ball out of his hands. Both strategies put the onus on the other Cavs to hit their shots. And this is something that is a big question mark for Cleveland.

- The Cavs have not been shooting the ball well lately--43% overall (32.3% from 3pt) for their 10 playoffs games, 41% (33%) vs. the Nets. Right now their main outside shooting threat, Sasha Pavlovic, is shooting only 30% from 3pt. (38% overall) for the playoffs. Even though his 3pt. numbers aren't bad, Larry Hughes has been really been bricking his jumper lately & shooting 36.5% overall for the playoffs, 32% vs. the Nets.

- The Cavs have to consider giving some of Hughes' minutes to Dan Gibson because he's a better pure shooter. Coach Brown has to consider playing Marshall because this can open up more space for Bron as well. Brown has to try a lineup like Gibson, Sasha, Donyell, Bron, & either Varejao/Gooden/Z at the 5. A lineup like this got them out of trouble in Game 6 in the 2nd half while the Nets were packed-in, much like the Pistons plan to be. The only issue for Brown going with his better shooting lineup is it could cause problems on the defensive end.

- The Cavs are the stronger rebounding team, but Detroit should be able to keep the margin reasonable. The Cavs started off the Nets' series crushing NJ on the boards, but the last few games the Nets basically neutralized Cleveland's board superiority.

- It's imperative that the Cavs supporting cast hit their open jumpers to keep this series close, plain & simple. Just think the Pistons are locked in right now, look more focused than last year & I think they are actually playing better defense than they were last year at this time. The only reason the Bulls stuck it out in the Conf. Semis is they got hot from outside, especially Game 5. The Cavs don't have the natural shooters like the Bulls do. Can't really seeing the Cavs consistently shooting & executing on offense to put enough pressure on the Pistons. The Cavs are a great offensive rebounding club, and might need to thrive on the off. glass to make up for their probable ragged offense. The Pistons are just a more balanced team than the Cavs. Both teams are a wash on the defensive end, but the Pistons are clearly more effective on the offensive end.

*--M.H.'s pick: Pistons in 6