April 16, 2009
After 1230 regular season games and whole lot of Gatorade, the 2009 NBA Playoffs are finally upon us. Hallelujah! Now, you've already heard my crackpot predictions, and KD throws in his two cents below, but we also asked a few team bloggin' experts to help set the first round table. So, to start us off, "CavsBlogger" from Fear The Sword and Brian Packey from Motown String Music breakdown the Cleveland-Detroit series.
Fear The Sword: And so it begins. In a lot of ways it is fitting that the Cavaliers and Pistons square off to start the 2009 NBA Playoffs. These two teams have been going at each other since LeBron James came into the League, and some of LBJ's best, and worst, moments have come against the Pistons.
As much as I'd love to reminisce, I'll stay on the topic at hand which is this year's matchup. Too bad, because this series won't be much of a matchup at all. In a lot of ways this feels like one last night with your ex-girlfriend before she gets married. You both know it is over between you, that she is moving on, but you want to relive that feeling one more time. That is Detroit, trying to recapture that feeling one more time.
Certainly the Pistons will play hard, motivated by the fact they believe it should have been them playing San Antonio in the 2007 NBA Finals. This Cavaliers team, however, is much better than that one was, and LeBron James is a much better player and leader. The Cavs can beat you several different ways now — they can outscore you, they can out-defend you, they can run, they can play half-court. Detroit just doesn't do any of those things well enough anymore, and let’s face it, who do they have to take a big shot at the end of games?
LeBron is going to get his, we all know that. I expect Rip Hamilton to play inspired ball as well. But it will be the other guys for the Cavaliers — Mo Williams, Delonte West and the resurgent Daniel Gibson that will hit the big shots, make the crucial plays, while Anderson Varejao does just enough to get under 'Sheed's skin. The over/under on how many games 'Sheed will get tossed is 1.5. Any takers?
The truly great players win championships. The NBA is a funny league that way. LeBron James is a great player and seems to be riding destiny's wave to the Larry O'Brien trophy. Detroit is at the back end of a historic run. The NBA, unlike any other league, seems to believe in passing the torch. Player to player, team to team. The Cavs will take the Eastern Conference torch from Detroit and carry it on, hopefully to the Finals. That's just the way it is.
As for predictions, the Pistons are a proud bunch, and they'll find a way to steal one at the Palace, but that's it.
Cavaliers in 5.
Motown String Music: As the cliché goes for underdogs like the Pistons, the playoffs represent a new season. A clean slate, if you will. The only problem is memories of a grueling 82 game season can’t be lost so soon and despite a valid effort to, there’s always the daunting little number next to the team’s name serving as a constant reminder of the season’s mediocrity that put them in their current state.
For the Pistons, that would be the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, a position even Nostradamus couldn’t possibly have predicted as the Pistons fate before this season started. However, with a blockbuster deal we wish we could rewind, some team turmoil, a sore back, and some laziness later, the Pistons find themselves gasping for air as they barely made it inside the playoffs closing doors.
Their reward for slipping into the playoffs? A date with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will have home court advantage in a building they’ve only lost twice in all season (39-2). The Cavs are a team that took three out of four from the Pistons in the regular season, has the "never won a Championship" chip on their shoulder, and possesses an out of this world star who seems to get better with every waking hour and more popular with every one of his talc powder tosses into the heavens, the heavens which some say he reigns over.
Many experts are saying this series won’t last long; maybe five games if the Pistons are lucky. All hope is not lost, though for the Pistons. I don’t think Rasheed Wallace was lying when he said the Pistons would regain their swagger come playoffs. The Pistons won three in a row and clinched a playoff spot after the "swagger" switch was flipped. Then when the games became virtually meaningless again maybe they flipped it back off to save energy. Either way, in those three wins, the Pistons resembled the team that defeated Orlando sans Chauncey (for most of the series) a year ago.
This year the Pistons have the more experienced Rondney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, and an even hungrier Antonio McDyess. The series may in fact hinge on these three Pistons performing well, possibly even overachieving. Not to put any added pressure on them.
In addition to the memories of this season, the Pistons will undoubtedly never forget how the Cavs defeated the Pistons in the 2007 playoffs, when LeBron James strapped his fellow Cavaliers to his back like a jet pack and single-handedly took off on the Pistons. Once again, Tayshaun Prince will have the honors of guarding him. Tayshaun, and the rest of the Pistons for that matter, need to stay true to their assignments. By not doing so, this will create open looks for LeBron’s more than capable teammates to hit big shots a la Daniel Gibson in '07. If that happens, this will be a very lopsided series in favor of the Cavs.
That being said, I think the Pistons will be able to learn a lot from that series in 2007 even though Cleveland is a better team now, especially with the addition of Mo Williams. With guys that match up with nearly every Cavalier, minus LeBron of course, this could be an interestingly physical 1/8 series. The Pistons bench is a lot deeper than most people think, particularly with the late season performance from Will Bynum.
In the end, it will come down to whether or not the Pistons flip the switch, remember what got them to the Eastern Conference finals each of the six years before, and quality coaching.
I don’t think the Pistons are "afraid of these cats," only this time they won’t provide the Cavs with bulletin board material. They still have a lot of talent and played Cleveland relatively tough in three out of the four games they played this year. I have to believe they sneak out some wins at the very least or I couldn’t call myself a believer. Ready for this?
Cavs in 7.
Kelly Dwyer: As was pointed out, the Cavaliers didn’t exactly do away with the Pistons this year. The Pistons took the first game, two others were relatively close, and one was a blowout in favor of Cleveland. In the teams’ last meeting, just a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see just how quickly the Cavs fell back into the plucky upstart role when faced with the Pistons’ red, white and blue. Something about Detroit, they match up well, and they force the Cavs to go LeBron-on-five.
Then again, when Cleveland was at its pluckiest, it still beat the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. And though you’d expect Detroit’s effort to pick up as the postseason starts, the Pistons pretty much sleepwalked through the first round in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Each series was a sign of things to come, for that particular year, even if the Pistons won the starting round. What does this have to do with 2009? Nothing. Cleveland is better. They'll win.