Friday, May 04, 2007

East Conf. Semi Preview (Pistons-Bulls)

Detroit (1) vs. Chicago (4):

- Some consider this to be the de-facto East Conf Finals. Can't say I disagree too much with that assessment, but I still give the Cavs, and to a lesser degree, the Nets a fighting chance to sneak into the Finals. Should be a very competitive, tight series. Looking for games in the high 80s-low 90s, though the Bulls will look to push the pace on occasion. Don't see much separation between the teams and expect this series to go the distance.

- Interesting to see some of the defensive match-ups in the series. Could see Hinrich guarding Hamilton some, and Gordon switching over to Billups. Wouldn't be surprised to see Prince on Gordon some, and Rip over on Deng. The Piston bigs really don't have to worry much about checking Wallace & Brown, they just have to find them when the shot goes up because they are both good offensive boarders.

- Pistons have as perfect an ancedote to Deng as any team: Tayshaun. Prince has the length & defensive chops at the SF to not let Deng go off like he did vs. the Heat. This should be the most interesting matchup of the series, and who ever gets the upper hand might swing the favor for their team.

- Most folks know how good the Bulls are on the defensive end, but I don't think people realize that the Pistons were pretty good themselves this year. Detroit ain't as good as the Bulls, but they're not that far off. One of the things that the Pistons have done well the last few years is defend the 3pt line, and this year is no different--34% Def. 3pt pct. And this could be a big factor since the Bulls like to utilize the long-ball, and they shot 38.8% for the year, second only to the Suns. Detroit was the 4th best at the defending the 3pt line, so it will be interesting to see which side wins out.

- Detroit is actually not as good as a rebounding team as you would expect even with their good size. Sheed has always been an underachiever on the boards, and Prince could stand to be better with his length at the 3 spot. The Bulls have a decent advantage, but I expect the Pistons to keep the rebound margin close enough where it should not be a decisive factor.

- Bulls rely heavliy on jumpers, no secret. And this could be their ultimate undoing (See Mavs). They really have no post presence whatsoever, besides maybe Deng going down there occasionally (but I doubt he will be doing much inside with Prince around). They really do not even really drive deep in the lane all that much. Nocioni likes to mix in some strong drives with his jumper, but Gordon really does not drive to the rim as much as he should.

-Both teams use a lot of screen action in their offense. The Pistons will run Rip off of multiple screens to free him, while the Bulls like to run their perimeter guys thru a weaving maze of screens up high to free them for mid-range jumpers. They also like to put Hinrich in pick/roll situations. Everyone wants to make the point that the Bulls' quickness was too much for the Heat to handle, which I agree was some of the problem for Miami. But some of the Heat's issues on defense were they just did not guard the screens all that well. So watch for if the Pistons have a good schemes to defend the high screens of the Bulls.

- Pistons can rely on their jumpshots too much as well (see last year's playoffs). But unlike the Bulls, they do have options in the post. Sheed is as nasty as anyone on the block, but he sometimes reluctant to go down there, and has fell in love with floating to the 3pt line the last 5 years of career. Sheed has to realize that the Pistons need him down to give the defense diffenerent looks. Detroit can also mix it up by running the offense thru Webber down low where he can pick a defense apart with his passing. Also, McDyess can be counted on with his nice turnaround jumper he's developed over the last few years.

-Some of the Bulls effectiveness on defense is they cause a fair amount of turnovers. But the Pistons are the best team in the NBA at protecting their offensive possessions. And the Pistons only average 10.5 TOpg vs the Magic.

- Bulls are probably the deeper team. Skiles is not afraid to play Duhon & Nocioni during crunch time, and Nocioni is a proven playoff performer. Ty Thomas & Sefolosha have the ability to make an imprint in limited minutes. Could see Skiles throwing Sefolosha on Billups or Rip to mix things up. The thing with the Pistons bench is, I just don't think Flip has much faith in his bench besides McDyess. Flip Murray fell out of favor in the middle of the season, but Saunders seems to have went back to him lately. The Pistons could use him if they get to bogged down with jumpshooting, because he can create some offense off the dribble. He still does not play Delfino enough for my liking. Delfino could start on a lot of other teams and is a multi-threat player.

-The Bulls definitely have the edge in the coaching department. My partner M.H. feels like this coaching advantage could play the decisive role in the series. While I agree with him that Skiles > Saunders, I'm just not sure the coaching difference is enough to ultimately decide this series. But the coaching factor is something to keep an eye on.

-Pistons were a very good road team (the only Eastern team with a winning road record) and I can see them easily winning a game or 2 in Chicago if needed. On the other hand, the Bulls were not really that great on the road for most of the year. They did get a little better near the end of the year & did take 2 in Miami, but those Miami road wins are hard to gauge.

-I think what will ultimately cost the Bulls is the lack of variety in their offense. I think they can go thru lulls when the shot is not falling--it happened in Game 1 & 3 which let the Heat back in--but in this series the Pistons are better equipped to take advantage of those lulls than Miami did. But the Pistons have to avoid these same type of stretches where they get jumpshot-happy, and remember they have some pretty solid low-post options. Tough call, but I'm leaning toward the Pistons.

M. Haubs' pick:
I had Chicago in 7 at the start of the playoffs in this one, and I'm sticking with it. I think this is a tossup series, and that coaching will make the difference. After last year's debacle vs. Miami, I don't believe Flip can get it done in the playoffs, and I think Skiles is the most underrated coach in the league.


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