I haven't done any posting on the Pistons, mostly because they've had the number one seed in the East wrapped up for a couple weeks now. Last night, 19-year old D-League phenom Amir Johnson logged more minutes than all 5 Piston starters combined. This is clearly not a bad thing, as it gives Detroit time to re-energize for the playoffs, but it makes for poor blogging material (although Johnson has been a bit of a revelation; he is a freak athlete with a ton of potential).
Now the playoff seedings are set, and the Pistons begin their bid for the championship against the 8-seed Orlando Magic. The Magic have been a bit of a disappointment this year, finishing with a 40-42 record despite preseason hopes of contending for the Southeast Division title. Historically, 1-seeds dominate 8-seeds, going 44-2 in series since the NBA adopted its current playoff format in 1983-84, and this series should continue that trend.
The Pistons swept their 4-game series with the Orlando this season, and hold a decided edge in four of the five matchups in the starting lineup:
Chauncey Billups vs. Jameer Nelson: Nelson has been one of the prime culprits for Orlando's disappointing season, with declines in points, assists, and FG% from his breakout year in 2005-06. Listed at 6'0", he is 5'11" on a good day, so look for the 6'3" Billups to regularly post up or just shoot right over the diminutive Magic PG. Mr. Big Shot has had great success against Orlando this year, averaging 26 points and 5.5 assists and shooting 63% from the field, including 50% from three. His success should continue in the first round.
Rip Hamilton vs. Grant Hill: Hill has certainly lost a step (or three) since his time in Detroit, and has even insinuated that he could retire after this season. He is still a very crafty player, scoring 14.4 PPG on 51.8% shooting, and has become a very solid mid-range scorer. However, he should have problems matching up with Hamilton on the defensive end. Rip prides himself on his ability to run all game, and Hill will have trouble keeping up with the younger, fitter Hamilton.
Tayshaun Prince vs. Hedo Turkoglu: Turkoglu may be the perfect stereotype of the European forward. He's big (6'10", 220 lbs.), plays on the perimeter and has trouble defending quicker players. About a third of Turkoglu's shots this season came from beyond the arc, where he shot a respectable 38.8%. He could have difficulty finding an open look against Prince, however, whose long arms allow him to play much taller than his 6'9" height. Tayshaun should be able to take Turkoglu off the dribble on the offensive end, and his combination of length and quickness should be difficult for the Magic forward to handle.
Rasheed Wallace vs. Tony Battie: Battie is an above-average defender and a big body, the reason the Magic gave him a 4-year, $22 million extension at the end of last season. However, he does little on the offensive end, averaging only 6.1 points on 46% shooting this season. Orlando had been platooning him with the more offensively competent Darko Milicic (I can't believe I just typed that), but Darko is out with a severe ankle sprain. Battie's lack of offensive prowess should allow Rasheed the freedom to do what he does best: help defense, especially on Dwight Howard. Another possibility is for the Pistons to put Rasheed directly on Howard and have the less-mobile Chris Webber defend Battie. On the offensive end, expect Sheed to take Battie out to the perimeter and out of his comfort zone in the post.
Chris Webber vs. Dwight Howard: This is the only matchup where the Pistons don't have a clear advantage. The 21-year old Howard is a man-child, averaging 17.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game this year. He is a force to be reckoned with on the glass on both ends, and gets most of his points on the fast break or on putback dunks and layups. He still is unpolished in the post game, which means he won't attract as much attention with the ball as one might expect. Detroit has always been averse to doubling in the post, and this series should be no different. Webber has been a welcome addition to the Pistons, and his tremendous passing, as well as his decent mid-range shooting, have allowed the offense to become much more versatile. His defense is suspect, however, so look for Rasheed to guard Howard often.
Pistons Bench vs. Magic Bench: The injury to Milicic throws this matchup firmly in the Pistons' favor. Detroit has a plethora of bigs to throw out against Howard, with Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, Dale Davis and Nazr Mohammed all available to play. McDyess is also an extremely effective scorer, netting 8.1 points on 52.6% shooting this season, and can guard both power forwards and centers. With Darko out, the Magic only have Pat Garrity and Bo Outlaw to back up Battie and Howard. Garrity and Outlaw have both played sparingly (and relatively ineffectively) this season, so expect Battie and Howard to log a lot of minutes up front. In the backcourt, Detroit will bring Lindsey Hunter, Flip Murray and Carlos Delfino off the bench. Hunter is a solid on-the-ball defender, but is a turnover or missed shot waiting to happen on offense. Murray was an early-season disappointment, but has settled in to the Pistons and is a solid scorer who can play either guard position. Delfino is an athletic wing player who can knock down open jumpers or drive to the hoop, and brings a lot of energy off the bench. The Magic rotate Carlos Arroyo, Keyon Dooling and Trevor Ariza off the bench. Dooling and Arroyo can both handle the point guard position, with Dooling also able to play shooting guard. Ariza can play small forward, and will also play some power forward with the absence of Milicic. He is a tremendous athlete who has been Orlando's most efficient player off the bench, scoring 8.9 points in 22.4 minutes per game. The Magic bench can match the Pistons in the backcourt, but the huge discrepancy in front court depth gives Detroit a strong edge off the bench.
Prediction: All signs point to a sweep for this series, but Detroit always seems to have a little trouble escaping the first round unscathed. Pistons in 5.