Tomorrow night the Detroit Pistons tip off their heavily anticipated second round series with the Chicago Bulls. The series is being billed as the return of Ben Wallace, but it also pits a young, up-and-coming squad (Chicago) against the established, playoff-tested power in the East (Detroit, if you couldn't guess). Here's my take of the matchups:
Point Guard- Chauncey Billups vs. Kirk Heinrich: With Ben gone, Chauncey is the de facto leader of the Pistons, and has been their best and most consistent performer this season. Unfortunately, he won't be able to bully Heinrich like he did Jameer Nelson in the first round. Hinrich is big for a point guard (6'3", 190) and a solid defender. He is adept at running the offense, with a 2.62 assist/turnover ratio, and is a good outside shooter (41.5% on threes). This is a clear edge for the Pistons, but Heinrich is still a solid player who will defend Billups much better than the Magic did. Edge: Pistons
Shooting Guard- Rip Hamilton vs. Ben Gordon: Gordon is an extremely good scorer, and has the ability to shoot from the perimeter (41.3% on threes) or get to the basket (he led the Bulls with 5.4 FTA per game this season). However, Gordon is extremely small for a shooting guard (6'3", 200) and is not known for his defense, often getting into foul trouble trying to guard bigger players. This bodes well for Rip, who had a lot of success when the Magic tried guarding him with Nelson during the first round. The Bulls need Gordon on the court for his scoring, but he may have a tough time staying out there if Hamilton is knocking down his shots. Edge: Even
Small Forward- Tayshaun Prince vs. Luol Deng: Deng has been a revelation for the Bulls this season, averaging 18.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in his first full season as a starter. He is tremendously athletic, and scores most of his points either on drives to the basket or putting back offensive rebounds. He is also a solid defender who uses his combination of length (6'9") and athleticism well. The key to this series may be whether or not Prince, who was named to the NBA All-Defensive second team this year, can stop Deng from getting to the basket. If anyone can do it, it's Tayshaun, who uses his huge wingspan and quickness to frustrate opposing forwards. However, Deng has been tough to stop in the playoffs, lighting Miami up for 26.3 points and 9 rebounds per game in the first round. Edge: Bulls
Power Forward- Rasheed Wallace vs. P.J. Brown: P.J. is certainly getting up there, and at 37 years old is not much of an offensive force. He can still defend, though, and even guarded Shaq occasionally in the first round. He does not play a big part in their offense, although he is a threat to knock down a mid-range jumper if his man leaves to stop Gordon or Deng's penetration. We'll see whether or not he keep up with Wallace on the defensive end when Sheed decides to stay out on the perimeter. Andres Nocioni plays almost the exact same amount as Brown, so we will only see this matchup around 20 minutes a game. Edge: Pistons
Center- Chris Webber vs. Ben Wallace: Piston fans are all very much familiar with Big Ben, a tenacious defender with a few offensive, um, shortcomings. Wallace's inability to handle or shoot the basketball will help mask Webber's difficulties on the defensive end, and even allow him to help when Gordon or Deng get to the basket. On defense, Wallace will patrol the lane and attempt to discourage Detroit from driving to the basket. However, with every single Piston able to shoot and pass from the outside, Wallace will not be able to just stand in the middle and swat shots as they come to him. According to 82games.com, Chicago actually scored less (not a surprise) and allowed more points (!) per 100 possessions when Wallace was on the floor for them versus when he was on the bench. This seems tough to fathom, but at least in this series, Wallace's great defense may not overcome his total lack of an offensive game. Webber has the opposite problem, so I'm still going to call this matchup Even.
Bench- Chicago is a deep team, with Nocioni, Chris Duhon, Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha all playing big roles off the bench. Nocioni is Chicago's fourth leading scorer, averaging 14.1 points per game this season on 46.7% shooting. He is a solid defender, but is often put at power forward, where Rasheed may be able to take advantage of his size (6'7") in the post. Duhon is a solid point guard, and does about as good a job as Heinrich of not turning the ball over (2.95 A/TO). He is not as adept a shooter as Heinrich, but can still hit from the outside and play solid defense. Thomas is a freak athlete, but has not received much playing time as a result of his out-of-control play at times. Sefolosha is a versatile guard/forward and a decent shooter, but is also an inexperienced rookie who may not get many minutes as the playoffs move on. The Pistons are certainly deep in the frontcourt, bringing Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, and Dale Davis off the bench. Detroit does not have the same depth in the backcourt, however, with only the inconsistent SG/PG Flip Murray and the offensive disaster that is backup PG Lindsey Hunter. Edge: Bulls
This should be an extremely competitive series, and it may come down to home court advantage. The Pistons have only lost one possible series-clinching game (game 7 of the finals in San Antonio) since the beginning of the 2003 playoffs, and I fully expect Detroit to put themselves in a position to clinch the series by game 6 in Chicago. Look for Hamilton to have a big series against the smaller Gordon, and Rasheed to take advantage of Brown's age and Nocioni's height as well. Tayshaun should be able to play well enough against Deng to keep him from doing what he did to Miami. Pistons in 6.