Over the next few days, Basket Bawful and Free Darko will be previewing each NBA Playoff series. Basket Bawful looks at the Eastern Conference today, continuing with the series between the Detroit Pistons and the Philadelphia 76ers, which begins Sunday.
This series doesn't seem quite as hopeless as Atlanta versus Boston. Instead of having only a snowball's chance in hell, I'd say the 76ers are more like a large, stubborn block of ice in hell. Still melting, but maybe a bit more slowly.
The season series: It was a 2-2 tie, with Detroit winning the first two games and Philadelphia winning the last two.
Good news for the Sixers: They're currently riding a two-game winning streak against the Pistons. And the two games they lost were pretty close: Detroit won 83-78 on November 23 and 86-78 on January 23. (So as long as they don't play on April 23, I guess they'll be okay? Uh oh.)
Bad news for the Sixers: This is Detroit we're talking about. So you can throw all that regular season stuff out the window. Just make sure nobody's standing on the street outside. We don't want anybody getting hurt. Unless it's Bill Laimbeer. In which case, please drop an anvil on him, Wile E. Coyote-style.
Reality check: The Pistons finished the regular season on fire, winning their final four games by an average of 14 points per despite giving their starters plenty of nappy time. Two of those wins — versus Washington and Toronto — came against teams fighting for playoff position. On the other end of the spectrum, Philly limped to the finish, losing its final four games ... including two losses to non-playoff teams (Indiana and Charlotte). Oh, and let's not forget that screw-job against Cleveland.
Basically, the Pistons get to go into this series with confidence, experience and momentum. The Sixers, on the other hand, get to go into it with ... a four-game losing streak. Hey, Sixers fans! What's that over there?! Why, it's Donovan McNabb, and he looks totally healthy! (Are they looking away yet? Good.)
Pistons player(s) to watch: Um, all of them? Detroit's starters can hang with any other starting five in the league, and it seems like someone different dominates on any given night. Oh, and their bench is suddenly capable of beating playoff teams on their own. I don't see any of these games coming down to a final shot, but if they do, I wouldn't bet against Chauncey Billups taking (and making) one. There's also 'Sheed. You've always got to watch 'Sheed.
Sixers player(s) to keep an eye on: In the two games Philly won, Andre Iguodala scored 22 and 25 points, and Samuel Dalembert grabbed a total of 28 rebounds. Iggy's got to score and Sammy's got to rebound for the Sixers to stay competitive. Oh, and Andre Miller has to keep the offense running. Yep. Those three guys have to play at their highest level just to make this a series. And don't think the Pistons don't know that. Also, you should really take a peek at Philly's dance team. Especially Vi.
Key(s) to the series: The Pistons' bench. Detroit's starters have shown a surprising lack of killer instinct in the playoffs over the last couple years. In 2006, they went up 2-0 against Cleveland before dropping three straight. In 2007, they had the Bulls down 3-0 before losing two in a row, then they built a 2-0 lead on Cleveland (again) before getting shut out in the next four games. That's not likely to happen this year, because the Pistons' Zoo Crew brings energy and some big, honking huevos off the bench when the starters begin to relent. Plus, I'm sure Flip Saunders would like to save the "old guys" and their legs for the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston.
Prediction: My brain tells me that this series is going to end in a 4-0 Pistons sweep, but my heart says the Basketball Gods owe the Sixers one for that fiasco against the Cavs. So I'm going to give Philadelphia one inspiring win — probably in Game 4, because the Pistons tend to let up a little when they have an opponent on the ropes — before their playoff dreams are crushed into paste. Detroit wins 4-1.