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Archive → April, 2009

Prince might cut his own minutes

Tayshaun Prince is still limited by a sore back and might play reduced minutes in game three, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.

"I will give whatever I can give," he said. "It felt better today (Thursday), but at the same time, I didn’t go at game speed. I am not the type of person to give excuses about injuries because I know both Rasheed and Rip (Hamilton) played hurt for us this season.

"But this is the pivotal game, so if I am not getting anything going early, I will let Arron (Afflalo) and those guys take the load."

Why Tayshaun Prince won’t be a Piston next year

Cast aside any qualms about the Chauncey Billups-for-Allen Iverson trade for a moment. Joe Dumars has done an excellent job as Pistons president.

Part of his shrewdness has been his ability to succeed with moves of any sort — draft picks, trades and signings have all shaped the franchise. The Thunder were built through the draft. The Celtics were built through trades. Detroit can’t be labeled like that.

But there appears to be one constant with Dumars’s moves. He gets rid of players who don’t perform in the playoffs.

In 2001-02, the Pistons secured the No. 2 seed, and the advanced to the second round for the first time in 11 years.

But they needed a full five games to beat the seventh-seeded Raptors in the first round. And they were no match for the Celtics in the second round. Dumars wasn’t satisfied.

The two starters who had the biggest drops in PER from the regular season to the playoffs lost their jobs. Jerry Stackhouse was traded to the Wizards for Richard Hamilton. And Chauncey Billups signed with Detroit, pushing Chucky Atkins to the bench.

And those aren’t the only postseason duds Dumars has jettisoned. Billups, Ben Wallace, Clifford Robinson, Corliss Williamson, Lindsey Hunter and Zeljko Rebraca left the Pistons after falling off in the playoffs.

Prince’s problems

And that brings us to Tayshaun Prince.

He has been absolutely atrocious against Cleveland. Prince is averaging 3.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 32 minutes per game. He has shot 3-of-12 and not taken a free throw.

In game one, he primarily guarded LeBron James, who had 38 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers in 41 minutes. Prince covered Delonte West more in game two. West scored 20 points on 12 shots.

And this isn’t an aberration. Prince’s once-spectacular defense has looked less than pedestrian this year.

By several metrics, Prince is the type of player Dumars moves after this season.

Three-year drop

Barring a miracle resurgence the rest of this series, Prince’s PER will have dropped from the regular season to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.

That has happened to four Pistons in the Dumars era. Billups (9.9 combined drop) and Williamson (12.8 combined drop) were traded. Rasheed Wallace (8.7) and Richard Hamilton (7.3) had lower combined drops and stuck around.

Prince’s combined drop in the last three years is 18.4.

Big drop

Prince’s PER is down from 15 in the regular season to 0.3 in the playoffs (-14.7).

Since 2001-02, just two other starters have had their PER drop from the regular season to the playoffs by at least five — Stackhouse by 5.4 in 2002 and Ben Wallace by 5.2 in 2006.

Both were gone before the next season. (Richard Hamilton has a drop of 4.9 this year, so his future with Detroit could be in jeopardy, too).

Worse drop than last year

And Prince’s drop has gotten worse the last two years, from 1.5 to 14.7.

In the last nine years, seven players’ PER has dropped from the regular season to the playoffs in consecutive season, with the second drop being more than the first. Five of them were gone the next year.

Just Rasheed Wallace and Hamilton stayed with the team.

Value

What’s most intriguing about trading Prince is he still probably has value.

Although I don’t thin Prince could stop many small forwards, he has the hardest task in the league with LeBron. Some GMs might excuse his playoff shortcomings.

And Prince, who will turn 30 next season, isn’t far removed from being one of the league’s most promising players. He was as good as a role player could be. He defended, scored, passed and rebounded. He was even on the Olympic team.

It’s hard to erase that reputation quickly. Look at this John Hollinger column on defensive players. He gives Prince an honorable mention at small forward with this comment:

Tayshaun Prince (+4.87) has been a fixture on this team in past years, but his adjusted plus-minus was terrible and it sure seemed as though guys had an easier time scoring on him than in the past.

The numbers indicated Prince has lost it. And if you’ve watched the Pistons consistently this year, you know it, too. But Hollinger is still slow to realize how far Prince has fallen. And I’m sure he’s not the only one.

A lot of people around the league seem to like Prince. There’s a solid chance Dumars is banking on that.

Regular-season vs. playoff PER

For a complete list of Pistons’ regular-season PER compared to their playoff PER since 2001-02, continue after the jump.

Continue reading →

Professional Game Coverage: Cleveland 94, Detroit 82

ESPN

"Mo Williams helps Cavs roll," by Chris Broussard

Four seconds into the game, the Pistons made good on their promise, trapping James in the left corner with Antonio McDyess and Rip Hamilton. James beat it with a skip pass and soon thereafter, Williams buried a 20-footer to open the scoring and give Cleveland a lead it never surrendered. It was a precursor of things to come, as Williams followed James’ game-high 29 points with 21.

Williams thought he’d have a good game, especially after Pistons coach Michael Curry revealed his strategy after Game 1.

"We’ve seen teams run and jump LeBron before,” Williams said. "We’re prepared for that. I hope they run and jump. Because I’m itching. I’m itching for them to do that because I’m going to knock down shots. That’s how much confidence I have when LeBron kicks it out. Pick your poison. Pick your poison.”

"Cavs top Pistons with balanced scoring," by Elias Sports Bureau

LeBron James scored 29 points and got support from Mo Williams (21) and Delonte West (20) in the Cavaliers’ 94-82 win over the Pistons. It was the first time in 19 years that three players scored at least 20 points in a 48-minute playoff win against Detroit. The last teammates to do so were Doc Rivers (34), Dominique Wilkins (24), and Sidney Moncrief (23) of the Hawks on May 2, 1991.

CBS Sports

"Make unselfish LeBron angry; I’d really like him if he were angry," by Gregg Doyel

et’s define a term, shall we? By unselfish superstar, I don’t mean "gets lots of assists." Magic Johnson was the best at that, and Bob Cousy and John Stockton weren’t bad. They were unselfish, clearly, and they were superstars. But they weren’t the same kind of unselfish, score-at-will superstar as LeBron or Wilt. Chamberlain once averaged 50 points per game in a season, was at 44.8 in another season and reached the upper 30s four other times. He wasn’t just a superstar. He was an offensive force of nature.

And still he passed the ball. A lot. Chamberlain didn’t famously lead the NBA in assists until he was 31, when his scoring had dropped to 24.3 ppg and his assists were up to 8.6, but he was in the league’s top 10 in assists three other times, including seasons in which he averaged 36.9 ppg and 33.5 ppg. The guy could score whenever he wanted to. Every time down the floor, he was his team’s best scoring option. And still he passed the ball.

Just like James.

Detroit News

"LeBron James’ talent too much for Pistons," by Chris McCosky

As the Pistons continue to slide off the basketball radar, let’s not lose sight of what’s really happening here.

LeBron James might be in the process of redefining the NBA’s gold standard. He needs to win a few rings before he unseats Michael Jordan, obviously. But I am here to tell you, he’s 6-foot-9, 270 pounds, and most of the time is stronger, faster and jumps higher than anybody on the court.

If he stays healthy and committed, he’s going to be the best that’s ever played before his time is done.

"Cavaliers put Pistons on the ropes," by Chris McCosky

Don’t be fooled by the final score. The Cavaliers never trailed and were up by 27 points after three quarters.

"They are the best team in the league and they are at home, but at the same time, we’ve got to play with some type of heart," Antonio McDyess said. "We aren’t playing at all like we’ve got any energy. We’re just going through the motions, it seems like."

When asked why that was, McDyess said, "Your guess is better than mine."

"Pistons bench gets Michael Curry’s attention," by Chris McCosky

There will be no lineup change, but that doesn’t mean the reserves didn’t show Pistons coach Michael Curry something.

"I think the second group of guys showed it doesn’t matter what we do, coverage-wise," Curry said. "If you go out, execute and do it extremely hard, we’ll be OK. We cover a lot of ground. We showed on pick and rolls. We trapped. They brought LeBron (James) back in, we trapped, rotated and covered the shooters.

"Physically, we were able to get it done. That’s what we take out of it."

The Pistons were down 27 after three quarters. Curry sent in the second unit. Bynum scored 11 points with five assists and two steals. Afflalo had 10 points, Jason Maxiell had four rebounds and Johnson was flying around covering several perimeter positions.

"Cavs’ Smith provides blueprint for Pistons’ Brown," by Chris McCosky

Cavaliers forward Joe Smith and Pistons center Kwame Brown have for their careers fought the label of "draft bust."

Smith was No. 1 overall in 1995, Brown No. 1 in 2001.

"We’ve never had a sit-down; I’ve never even talked to Kwame, except on the court during games," Smith said. "But we both understand. We know what expectations are for any No. 1 pick."

Still, you would think Brown could take some solace in what Smith has achieved. Though never an all-star, Smith has carved out a successful 14-year career, averaging 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds. He’s been a reliable and productive role player on seven playoff teams.

Detroit Free Press

"Pistons not even worth taking seriously," by Michael Rosenberg

Come on. You’re not counting the Pistons out, are you? Why? Just because they got drilled twice by Cleveland, appear to have replaced the coach’s blackboard with a piece of pavement and some chalk, could not guard LeBron James if the NBA made both fisticuffs and handcuffs legal, and look like they stopped believing in themselves two months ago?

Oh. Well, then I guess I see your point.

The Pistons are so dead, this series should be called on account of carcass. Maybe the Pistons will squeeze out a game at the Palace, but even that seems unlikely.

"LeBron too much for Pistons, down 0-2," by Vince Ellis

By playing the Cavs so often (four times per season and facing them in the playoffs two of the past three seasons), the Pistons generally have a good feel for what the Cavs are trying to do.

But this is a different Cavs team than in the past. With the addition of Mo Williams and a cadre of shooters, gone are the days where the Cavs would just throw the ball to James and have everyone else get out of the way.

"A couple of years ago, we did a lot of standing," James said. "We relied on me sometimes just to dribble and get us into making a play for either myself or a teammate.

"The ball movement that we have and the way we rely on my teammates to make plays is at an all-time high for us as a team just because we’ve been doing it all year, and repetition helps."

"Fans, opposing players awed by LeBron James," by Vince Ellis

But what wasn’t expected was for Tayshaun Price to be suffering from sore ribs, an injury he sustained in the regular-season finale at Miami on Wednesday night.

If you ever have had sore ribs, you know Prince isn’t in top shape to be battling the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James.

But since James plays small forward and it is the postseason, the Pistons and Prince have little choice.

"It’s not stopping me from jumping or running for that matter, it just locks up when I’m out of the game and sit for a minute or even during time-outs," said Prince, who had a wrap around his waist after the game. "That’s why during the time-outs I was standing, because I really couldn’t sit down."

"At Cleveland," by Vince Ellis

The Pistons trotted out a big lineup of Tayshaun Price and Hamilton in the backcourt with Kwame Brown, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess up front in the first quarter. They employed a zone for the five defensive possessions with the lineup and gave up two three-pointers.

Booth Newspapers

"Pistons’ rally falls short in Game 2 at Cleveland," by A. Sherrod Blakely

"We didn’t come out and do the job we were assigned to do," Pistons starting power forward Antonio McDyess said. "It’s like they were doing anything they wanted to do on offense. We didn’t give any resistance.

"We have to play with some type of heart. We ain’t playing at all like we got any type of energy. We’re just going out there, going through the motions, it seems like."

"Pistons still struggling to stop Cavs’ LeBron James," by A. Sherrod Blakely

Pistons forward Amir Johnson, on Cleveland’s moppy-haired power forward Anderson Varejao: "He plays hard, but the hair makes it seem like he plays harder."

The Plain Dealer

"Pistons teach Cavaliers a needed lesson: There’s no coasting in the playoffs," by Terry Pluto

But the Cavs must not forget that while the Pistons might be old and sputtering, they still have enough gas in the tank to push the Cavaliers to the edge of anxiety if the home team wants to coast when the starters need a rest.

Hey, guys, how can you allow anyone to outscore you 32-17 on your home floor in the fourth quarter of the playoffs? How can you settle for long, lazy jumpers? For half-hearted switches on defense? For indifferent effort on the boards?

Brown must drive home the point that the Cavs can’t allow an opponent to bolt to a 27-5 fourth-quarter run and still expect to win — as they did last night. Not against Miami, Atlanta, Orlando or anyone else in the Eastern Conference that has an offense with more octane than these Pistons.

"Flawless for three quarters, Cavaliers fall flat in fourth, but hold off Pistons, 94-82," by Brian Windhorst

In the guts of the game, the Pistons changed the way they played James. With Tayshaun Prince dealing with a back injury, Pistons coach Michael Curry put Richard Hamilton on James and then rotated Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo on him. When James stopped moving, the Pistons then brought a big man over to double-team him.

At one point, Detroit played a huge lineup with no one under 6-7 on the court in a zone, which seemed to confuse the Cavs for a moment or two.

But the Cavs have been built for these situations, especially in the playoffs. James did two things — forcing the issue by driving into the pressure looking to draw fouls, and passing to his offensively skilled teammates. Both worked quite well, which is how the Cavs were able to control the game throughout.

"That was probably the biggest lineup in NBA history," James said. "You want to be aggressive against aggressive teams and definitely they are very aggressive on defense."

"Mo Williams gets the jump on Pistons, helps Cavaliers build a dominating Game 2 lead," by Jodie Valade

“I ain’t been in too many playoff games," he said of his six-game total. "It was just a normal day at the office. This team expects me to go out and perform. If I don’t, it’s a bad day for me."

That’s what happened in Game 1, when Williams was a step slow when defending Stuckey, got in foul trouble, and wound up with a tentative 12 points. Stuckey, meanwhile, accumulated 20 points on 5-for-21 shooting.

In the two off days between games, Williams analyzed every drive Stuckey took in the opener, locating instances where he made mistakes and times when he correctly defended the Pistons point guard.

"We went to the drawing board," Williams said. "So I had a quicker step tonight. I was quicker to my spots."

"The Courtside View: Seen and heard around Saturday’s Game 1 of Cavaliers-Pistons," by Mary Schmitt

OK, he’s not their coach. But as Mike Brown received his Coach of the Year Award before the game, the Pistons conducted their normal pre-game huddle, complete with Rasheed Wallace dancing in the middle of his teammates. Thus inspired, they proceeded to fall behind, 12-2.

Akron Beacon Journal

"Pistons rally in the fourth to spoil fun," by Patrick McManamon

Detroit called timeout trailing 68-46, and you wonder what in the heck Curry said to his players.

Curry had Saturday night, all day Sunday and Monday to come up with something after his team lost Game 1.

During the timeout, the Teletubbies danced on the big screen while Curry tried to coach.

He might as well have put the Teletubbies (”Tinky winky passes to Po, back to Dipsy … ”) out there for all that.

The result: At the end of the third quarter Delonte West made a 3-pointer that gave the Cavs a 27-point lead.

A once-proud team was playing like it knew it had no chance.

"Cavs KO Pistons in Game 2," by George M. Thomas

James didn’t match his point total from the weekend, but Curry’s calculated gamble of forcing the rest of the Cavs to beat his team proved to be a bust.

The Cavs worked the ball around on offense as Delonte West (20 points, three rebounds, four assists) and Mo Williams (21 points, two rebounds, seven assists) knocked down shots. The Cavs’ defense forced the Pistons to sputter with 40 percent shooting.

"Finishing second OK with LeBron," by Tom Gaffney

The two home games for the Pistons guarantee them nothing, forward Tayshaun Prince said.

”We haven’t played well at home all season,” Prince said. ”We’ve had a lot of bad losses at home to teams we definitely should have beat. To get in the playoffs now and obviously have your home crowd and court is something that’s important. But we’ve definitely shown throughout the season that we haven’t done a good job of taking care of our home court.”

The Pistons were 21-20 at home this season, going 1-1 against the Cavs.

The Morning Journal

"THE MORNING ROAST: Wallace should be respected as a person," by Mike Perry

The best thing about Wallace’s charitable endeavors is that he doesn’t just write a check and feel like he has done his part. Every year around Christmas he visits Children’s Hospital, usually bringing along a few teammates, to visit with and distribute gifts to sick children in Detroit. Kids with life-threatening diseases, kids who have virtual death sentences, the most heartbreaking children who, in some cases, are living out the rest of their short lives in antiseptic hospital wards — Wallace does what he can to bring smiles to their young faces.

Wallace is also very active in the NBA’s "Read to Achieve" program.

Wallace might be the biggest punk you will ever see on the basketball court, but everything he does away from the game of basketball deserves our respect.

Hate him as a player, respect him as a person.

"Cavs are built to win now," by Jeff Schudel

The Cavaliers lost an epic seven-game battle to the Celtics last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and as they fell in Boston in Game Seven it was more evident than ever the Cavs needed someone other than James to direct the offense.

In the Cavaliers locker room before the game Tuesday night, James was talking about how he sets goals for himself every season. Williams, sitting in his chair on the other side of the locker room, overheard James and announced, smiling, what one of James’ goals was after last season, "Get Mo here! Get Mo here!"

James broke into a smile and chuckled before proceeding.

"Cavs have Pistons’ number," by Brad Bournival

When James drove the lane in the first half, Johnson met him with a hard shove to the ground. And when Anderson Varejao approached him, Johnson gave him a shove as well.

That drew a technical, but showed these Pistons can be just as mean as the teams in the past. The fact Kwame Brown picked one up at halftime showed there was still some spit left in Detroit.

"We’re a different Detroit team than we were two years ago," Curry said. "We lost that series. Hopefully some of the older guys can calm things down and get after it. We’ll try to find the perfect mix."

"PHYSICAL CONFRONTATION: No answer for King James as Cavs survive bumps and bruises," by Bob Finnan

The Cavs were 32 of 43 from the foul line, compared to 13 of 16 for the Pistons.

"We have to find way to keep them off free-throw line," Pistons coach Michael Curry said.

"LeBron finishes second in DPOY voting, Brown satisfied," by David Glasier

Brown has never lost a first-round series in the playoffs. “You need patience, but still have a sense of urgency,” he said. “You need that to have success in the playoffs.”

Cavs the Blog

"Recap: (14) Really? Is this all we have to be concerned with?," by John Krolik

More of LeBron just wanting to destroy everyone. 17 free throws means that they can’t stop him from getting to the basket and he doesn’t want to stop going. This was a bit of an uglier game than game 1, and LeBron was ugly-effective, getting to the line over and over again. He was also mixing it up, judiciously going to the post and refraining from shooting midrange jumpers until the fourth quarter, with two of his three misses from that range coming on the Cavs’ final two possessions. Add that to the 13 rebounds, and this game was all about LeBron James just physically overpowering a team with nothing approaching an answer for him.

Game Review: Roughin’ it

It’s rough, but it sure ain’t right.

Cleveland has just beaten Detroit by 18 and 12 (and last night’s 94-82 win wasn’t as close as the final score) to take a 2-0 series lead.

Let’s flash back four years ago to the last time the Pistons were in this type of hole. The Spurs had just beaten Detroit by 15 and 21 to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals.

But Detroit remained resilient. Pistons coach Larry Brown and Rasheed Wallace via the Detroit News:

"We have great character in our locker room," coach Larry Brown said. "We’ve got competitors. We’ve got guys that want to do the right thing. That’s why I think we’re all so excited about the next game.

"Nobody’s happy about the fact that we’re two down or about the way we got beat, but everybody’s excited about having an opportunity to continue and make this a series."

Asked afterward if the champs lost their composure, Rasheed Wallace tried to regain his.

"No, I don’t think so," he said. "They were making a lot of outside shots. They make those, there’s not too much you can do about it. … We still feel good. It’s the good ol’ boys versus the Bad Boys and now it’s the Bad Boys time."

This was the origins of Detroit’s “if it ain’t rough, it’ ain’t right” mantra. The Pistons dug themselves got themselves into so many holes during the last few years, they got used to climbing out of them. No matter the obstacle, their swagger didn’t disappear.

Here’s Antonio McDyess after last night’s loss:

"Nothing we’re doing now is working," McDyess said. "We basically have to play a perfect game just to be on top."

That doesn’t exactly exude the same confidence Brown and Wallace had four years ago. This series is over, and the Pistons know it.

In 2005, the Detroit won the next two games by 17 and 31. Until this year, Detroit’s core players have known, if they play well, they could beat anyone.

But Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace are gone. Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince are older. The Pistons don’t have the tools to beat every team when they flip the switch.

Now, the Pistons play like they know they can’t win a title. I don’t think they want to put out the effort knowing it won’t produce results, anyway.

The Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski wrote a column after the Pistons fell behind 2-0 to the Spurs. Here’s the end of it:

"I know we’ve got great character, we’re competitors and good guys, and we’re gonna do everything we can," Brown said. "If they’re better, they’re better. But I don’t feel like this series is over, and I don’t think anybody in this room does."

It will take all the Pistons have to climb back in it. Whatever they have left, they need to unleash now. I don’t think they’ll let it end like this, bowing meekly in blowouts, because that’s not who they are, or were.

All we’re asking is that they remind us, quickly, who they are. Or were.

The ‘09 Pistons can’t show us who they were, only who are they are.

And that’s why they’re finished.

Fourth-quarter run

There certainly have been games the Pistons have never led. And they’ve probably gone on 25-4 runs, too.

But I doubt it’s ever happened in the same game before.

Through the first 84-and-a-half minutes of the series, the Cavaliers played like they were in the NBA Finals. I’m not sure if the Pistons, who turned the ball over eight times in the first 13 minutes, reached regular-season intensity in that span.

But with 11:29 left in the fourth quarter last night and trailing 79-50, Detroit began a 25-4 run. And the Pistons even outscored Cleveland 7-1 right after LeBron, Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao came back into the game.

For must of the spurt, Will Bynum, Arron Afflalo, Walter Herrmann, Jason Maxiell, and Amir Johnson were on the floor. Those players have started a combined a combined 73 games their careers. This season, 59 players started that many games this by themselves.

In no way was this run indicative of future Pistons success in this series. If anything, it made it more disturbing the starters don’t play this hard.

Cleveland’s starters settled in and went on an 8-0 run to put the game out of reach.

Frontcourt woes

I was pretty down on the starting front court after game one, and that hasn’t changed.

Combined, they shot 7-for-21 last night. Tayshaun Prince is 3-for-12 and has six points in the series (just four total rebounds, too).

And Antonio McDyess made two free throws last night. Now, the starting front court has combined for two free-throw attempts in the series.

Worst of all, though, is their defense.

Prince has done nothing to contain LeBron, and McDyess and Wallace haven’t protected the paint once LeBron blows by Prince. Last night LeBron had 29 points, including 13-of-17 from the free-throw line, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Live Blog: Detroit at Cleveland, Game Two

Game Preview: Detroit at Cleveland, Game Two

Essentials

Date: April 21, 2009

Time: 8:00 p.m.

Television: TNT and Fox Sports Detroit Plus

Records

Detroit: 39-43

Cleveland: 66-16

Series: Cleveland leads, 1-0

Probable starters

Detroit:

PG SG SF PF C

Rodney
Stuckey
Richard
Hamilton
Tayshaun
Prince
Antonio
McDyess
Rasheed
Wallace

Cleveland:

PG SG SF PF C

Mo
Wiliams
Delonte
West
LeBron
James
Anderson
Varejao
Zydrunas
Ilgauskas

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Detroit +11.5

Over/under: 178

Score: Cleveland wins 95-83

Statistical projection

Detroit offensive rating: 107.4 (21st)

Detroit defensive rating: 108.0 (16th)

Detroit pace: 86.7 (29th)

Cleveland offensive rating: 112.4 (4th)

Cleveland defensive rating: 102.4 (3rd)

Cleveland pace: 88.7 (25th)

Score: Cleveland wins 97-92

Outlook

For the Pistons to win game two, they must start by defending LeBron James better. The soon-to-be-named MVP had 38 points on 20 shots, eight rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers in 41 minutes in game one.

Detroit has no shortage of plans.

Michael Curry via pistons.com:

“I think it’s about our aggressiveness. Before this I told them four turnovers said that we weren’t aggressive enough. And so we’ve got to make [Cleveland] turn the ball over more,” Curry said at Sunday’s practice. “We also have to get their shooting percentage down.”

Curry via the Free Press:

“Whatever we are trying to take away, we have to be more aggressive taking it away,” Curry said of James. “When we trap him, we got to aggressively trap him. When we contain him and try to make him shoot contested jumpers, we got to do that.”

Tayshaun Prince via the Detroit News:

“It’s going to take a team effort to slow him down,” Prince said. “We have to take the ball out of his hands and limit his shots in the paint.”

Richard Hamilton via the Detroit News:

“You can’t have LeBron relax on defense,” Richard Hamilton said. “That’s what he’s trying to do right now. He’s trying to play safety (akin to a football safety), being around the rim and helping teammates. We have to make him play defense and wear him out on that end. He means so much on the offensive end for them. We have to find ways for him to play defense.”

And Rasheed Wallace via the Detroit News:

“Knuckling up, bottom line,” Rasheed Wallace said. “There are no tricks we’re going to add. Just straighten on up.”

It seems the Pistons plan is to play more aggressively, force more turnovers, lower Cleveland’s shooting percentage, contest shots, play as a team, execute better offensively and get tougher. Right.

Look, I’m not going to criticize these guys too much because, what are they supposed to say? Nobody can stop LeBron, and few teams have the defense to slow him. Detroit isn’t one of them.

I suspect the Pistons will consistently double him, a tactic they rarely use. If they don’t, he’ll probably repeat his last performance.

LeBron’s supporting cast drew criticism after Saturday. If they played a complete game without James the same way they did in the seven minutes he was on the bench, they would have lost by 27.

But this is a capable group, and LeBron is an excellent passer. If Detroit double teams, he will pick the Pistons apart and the rest of the Cavaliers will soar.

It’s a lose-lose situation, and I think Detroit knows it. From Chris McCosky of the Detroit News:

For whatever reason, avoiding the Cavaliers wasn’t a motivating factor for this team. Talking to the veterans, it was if they had long since resigned themselves to the bottom of the bracket and an early exit.

It was fitting that a coach — probably Michael Curry — wrote “Do we believe?” on the message board inside the Pistons locker room before Game 1. It’s a fair question. And, in truth, the answer would be no. They haven’t believed in a long time. But that’s probably for the best, because now there’s no doubt about charting a new course.

Come back at 8 p.m. to participate in a live blog of today’s game.

Don’t give up on Curry

John Hollinger’s Per Diem discussed the growth of Cleveland coach Mike Brown, this year’s Coach of the Year. This paragraph made me think of Pistons coach Michael Curry:

The reason I bring up Brown is to point out something a lot of fans don’t consider: Coaches can be a lot like players. They have strengths and weaknesses, develop tendencies and can improve from year to year. Sometimes, they have good years and bad years — a point driven home to me by living in Atlanta, where a single coach has been working for the past half decade.

Hollinger compares Brown to Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. Sometimes, Del Negro seems clueless. But Brown did that in his early years, too. So, it’s not unreasonable Curry get a lot better.

But to be fair, for every Mike Brown, there are several first-time coaches who fail and don’t develop. And it’s a little disconcerting how much better Del Negro looks than Curry right now, especially considering their common early-season struggles.

Check back for tonight’s live blog of the game.

Pistons roundtable

UPDATE: Drew Sharp’s responses are now included.

I had the idea to bring together some different points of views on the Pistons. Luckily, a few people even helped me out, so I didn’t have to make up multiple personalities. Here’s the panel:

Everyone answered the same five questions, and each person had a customized sixth question. Without further ado, here are the responses:

1. How far do you see the Pistons going this year (some answers came before the playoff seeding was set)?

Chris McCosky, Detroit News: You are who you are after 82 games, and the Pistons are just an average team this season. So, even if they should happen to move up to No. 7, which is doubtful, it’s going to one and done for them.

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: I see them winning one more game. Cleveland is just a lot better than the Pistons, and hotter, with more confidence, a better homecourt advantage, the best player in the world … probably enough reasons there. It’s a shame the Pistons blew that game to Chicago in the season’s final week. As we’ve seen, Boston and Orlando are much more vulnerable than Cleveland.

Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: They’re not getting past Cleveland in the first round. That’s hardly a profound declaration, but the Cavaliers are now what the Pistons once were — an extraordinarily confident and talented team that capable of turning up the intensity at a second’s notice. Provided that LeBron James remains in Cleveland beyond next summer when he’s eligible for free agency, the Cavaliers should place a vise-lock grip on the Central Division championship for at least the next four or five years.

Greg Johnson, The Grand Rapids Press: I’m seeing a first-round exit. The team has not finished games, and LeBron James is a finisher.

Dave Dial, Full Court Press: With the Pistons facing the best team in the NBA in the first-round, it’s hard to see them getting past the Cavaliers. Although this Piston team is not incapable of winning the series, they would have to play like they have not played almost the entire 2009 season. Head coach Michael Curry will have to come up with a game plan designed to beat the Cavs, and the players would have to buy into that game plan, something that seems unlikely based on what has transpired so far this season.

If the Pistons did beat Cleveland in the first round, it would make a season full of disappointments and frustrations a lot easier to take for a lot of Piston fans. However unlikely that scenario is, it’s not impossible.

Matt Watson, Detroit Bad Boys: As much as I’d like to pretend that they can shock the world with an upset, it’s not going to happen. This is a proud team, so I’ll give them one win, but this playoff run won’t go past five games.

Zack Slabotsky, Count That Baby And A Foul: I wrote a prediction column on my own site, but for now I’ll say that I do not expect to see Rodney Stuckey emulate the Dikembe Mutombo pose.

Brian Packey, Motown String Music: Everyone has been saying, “it’s not a matter of how far do you think the Pistons will go, it’s a matter of how many games do you think they will squeeze out in round one, if any.”  I think that’s fair given they play Lebron/Cleveland, the No. 1 seed who have lost just two games at home all season.  People knock the Pistons because of their record, yet I see this team as predominantly the same that helped lead them to six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals.  Now, if I was a betting man, I probably wouldn’t put anything on them making it past Cleveland, but then again, I would never bet against my own team either.  That being said, if the Pistons play the type of basketball they played the five games before Miami (minus the final six minutes of the Bulls game), I think they are more than capable of making this a very competitive series.  Unfortunately, Cleveland is still 39-1 at home this season with their normal starters in the lineup and the glory of having home court advantage is they get to play one more game there in a seven game series.  I might get slapped in the face for this somewhat bold call, but Cavs in SEVEN.

Jesse Murphy, Pistons Nation: Don’t mean to take the easy way out but it’s hard to say.  It depends who they draw in the first round and if they continue the momentum they’ve been building recently.  If I had to put money on it I’d say they’d be out in the second round.  That’s better than a few weeks ago when I didn’t believe their was a playoff team that they could beat in a 7 game series.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Sunday.

At this point, what can the Pistons do to avoid a sweep? LeBron is too good, and Tayshaun Prince’s defense has fallen too far.

Cleveland could always have a letdown, allowing Detroit to steal a game. But I wouldn’t expect that from a team that had the focus to win 66 games in the regular season.

2. How well do you think the Pistons handled the Allen Iverson situation? What’s his future in the league?

Chris McCosky, Detroit News: The Pistons handled the Allen Iverson situation better than Allen Iverson. The guy basically quit on them, after playing poorly and destroying the team’s chemistry for four months. He came here saying he would do whatever it took to win a championship. The only thing the Pistons asked him to do, after it was clear his skills had diminished and they couldn’t win with him starting, was to come off the bench — and he couldn’t do it. The Pistons let him use the sore back as it exit strategy, but he left because he wasn’t playing well and he couldn’t handle coming off the bench. The thing about it, though, is that Joe Dumars never had any delusions about Iverson. If he caught lightning in a bottle and had a great run, great. But more important, and the reason Dumars made the trade, was for Iverson’s expiring $22 million contract. The cap space will be Iverson’s legacy in Detroit.

As for Iverson’s future, somebody will sign him. He won’t make nearly as much money, nor will he get more than a two-year deal (you would have to be crazy to sign him for more), but he can still sell tickets. And in this economy, that’s pretty significant.

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: I understand the trade, which may yet pay dividends. But the Pistons botched virtually everything AFTER the trade, from giving Iverson Chauncey Billups’s uniform number to letting him dominate the ball at
the end of games to benching Rip Hamilton in favor of Iverson. The thing they did right was tell him to go away.

I don’t know what Iverson’s future holds. I’m sure some teams will want him — perhaps Charlotte and Larry Brown. But I can’t see why any good team would want him after this season. He is no longer worth the trouble. His athleticism has declined but he still thinks he is a star. It’s not a winning combination.

Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: Iverson gets the brunt of the blame for the problems but his teammates were just as much at fault. Iverson has unique talents. He must have the ball in his hands constantly to fully utilize those skills. But that was the antithesis of the Pistons’ non-superstar, every-player-is-equal mantra from the previous five years. Some compromises had to be made, but Iverson’s teammates refused to balance their offensive needs to pacify Iverson’s skills. Iverson wasn’t changing because, in his mind, he was destined for the Hall of Fame regardless of what happened in Detroit and he thought the others should acquiesce to him. It was a battle between two stubborn rams continually butting heads.

Iverson still has a future in this league, but he must decide what he wants out of the remaining time in his career. If he wants a world championship, he must accept a lesser role off the bench on a very good team at a greatly reduced salary.
Couldn’t you see him coming off the bench — and thriving — for Cleveland next season?

Greg Johnson, The Grand Rapids Press: I think the salary cap help he will provide made it worth the risk, and the risk didn’t work. There was no reason to push the issue with Iverson. He has lost a step. He can’t finish at the basket. He never has fit into a team, only tried to make them fit to his game. The Pistons handled it as well as they could once the mistake to bring him in was made.

Dave Dial, Full Court Press: Very poorly. From Joe Dumars, coach Curry, the Piston core players to Allen Iverson, the situation was handled very poorly. In the end, most of the blame can be directed at Iverson himself. The way he reacted before he was banished for the season was inexcusable. He hurt himself more than anyone else and tarnished his image throughout the league. Did he have cause to be upset? Sure, but his reaction didn’t help the situation and he cost himself a lot of money in the summer.

If Joe Dumars and Michael Curry thought that Allen Iverson could come in and run the Piston offense like Chauncey Billups did, then they have not watched Iverson play throughout his career. What seemed like endless lineup changes over the last season, one thing did not change, Curry continued to run a slow paced, half-court offense that Allen Iverson did not fit into. So everyone can share in the blame for the Iverson experiment not working out, but Allen’s reaction to the situation will cost him.

Which brings us to Iverson’s future in the NBA. Allen will find a team that wants him to play for them, whether that team is a playoff contender or trying to fill up seats. One year removed from his best all-around season, there will be several team executives believing that Iverson still has plenty in the tank the next few seasons. I could see him going to New York, Phoenix or even back to Philadelphia. Though Iverson would be hard pressed to get a contract for more than 3 years or over the Med-Level Exception, he will get contract offers.

Matt Watson, Detroit Bad Boys: I think the team bent over backwards trying to get him to fit in, and they did an admirable job allowing him to save face by covering for his absence and not publicly second-guessing his injury.

I was a proponent of bringing Iverson off the bench early in the year, so it was frustrating to watch the team try every lineup combination possible before giving it a shot. In hindsight, though, I suspect the coaching staff knew all along how Iverson would react, so it makes sense now why they waited so long. And once the team realized his nightly complaints about his role were a distraction, they severed ties, wisely preventing it from becoming an issue anymore.

As for his future, I have no idea. Part of me thinks he’s too proud to accept what will likely be a 75% pay cut, but another part of me thinks he’s too proud to be pushed out of the game. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s not going to find a team willing to hand over the reins and build around him, which means even if he signs another contract, he won’t be happy very long.

Zack Slabotsky, Count That Baby And A Foul: I would have sent Iverson to the bench far more quickly than the Pistons did. Aside from that, I have no major complaints with how they handled him. As I explained here, Iverson is no longer a good NBA player. Handling him differently would not have changed this, although reducing his minutes would have added to the Piston win total. As far as his future in the league goes, I expect a team to sign him this summer, only to regret the signing by December. I see him out of the league by the end of next season at the latest.

Brian Packey, Motown String Music: I think the Pistons handled the A.I. situation about as well as they possibly could.  There were only a couple instances where Iverson publicly complained about his role on the team and it reached newspaper headlines.  And, if you recall, the Pistons squashed those rather quickly.  All along I predicted that the back injury to Iverson was a Detroit Lions/Jon Kitna-like cover up and while we may not know the real truth, I think the Pistons took advantage of an opportunity to let Iverson back into the shadows with some dignity and in turn, let the Pistons move on without him.  The trade was a high risk/high reward type deal (in addition to the money it’ll free up) and obviously, the high risk part shined through.  Everyone has their theories, but I think the Pistons handled the Iverson situation as best as they possibly could given the performance of the team while he was on the court.

As for Iverson’s future, I definitely don’t think he’s done.  If he’s in fact healthy some team is definitely going to want him.  He just didn’t fit in with Detroit’s style.  Him signing elsewhere depends on the market for him.  I think A.I. is going to have to compromise again with a new team, where he might have to agree to sign for less if the team gives him more minutes.  Or possibly even vice versa if the team can afford it.

Jesse Murphy, Pistons Nation: Very commendable.  They did what was best for the team and let Iverson save face, although we know it wasn’t the back issue that ended Iverson’s days in Detroit.

One of two options for Iverson.  Concedes to the needs of a contender or stat pad on a bad team.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: I still believe the trade was the right move. Detroit didn’t have the Chauncey Billups that Denver does. The move home reinvigorated him.

And he is getting old. Better to make the deal a year too early than get stuck with Billups a year too late.

Iverson will have a chance somewhere. He’s talented, not ridiculously old and can sell tickets. But I suspect whoever signs him will regret it.

3. What do you see as Michael Curry’s future with the team?

Chris McCosky, Detroit News: Solid. This is Joe Dumars’ guy, and he knows he put Curry in a tough spot this season by trading Billups and bringing AI in. Curry has made a lot of mistakes. He was pretty naive early on and overly confident and head strong in some of his beliefs. But he’s been humbled, he’s learned lessons and has grown more in one season than any coach I’ve seen, I’ve been watching coaches come and go here for 15 years. Curry’s going to be OK.

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: I expect him back. I don’t think Curry had a good year this year, but dropping Iverson in his lap a week into the season, in exchange for the team’s glue and spiritual leader, is tough on a rookie coach. I’d like to see Curry get a full season with a more functional roster. I believe Pistons management understands this is not all Mike’s fault.

Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: Curry is the season’s other scapegoat, but the Iverson-for-Chauncey Billups trade not even one week into the season placed the rookie head coach in a no-win situation. His primary responsibilities this season was developing second-year point guard Rodney Stuckey and finding reliable players off the bench. You cannot judge Curry as a success or failure right now because of the bizarre circumstances at the start of the season. Let’s see what he does next season before we cast judgments.

Greg Johnson, The Grand Rapids Press: I’m thinking he will stick around and learn on the job. Joe Dumars knew he was bringing in a rookie coach, who would have to learn about being a head coach on the job. He isn’t going to dump him for what he set him up to do, unless a name comes along that Joe really wants — like he did when Larry Brown became available. Never say never.

Dave Dial, Full Court Press: With the Pistons making the playoffs, I think Curry ensured himself a chance to start next season as Piston head coach. The only way Joe Dumars would have thought about firing Curry after the season is if Detroit failed to make the playoffs, and even then it would seem that Joe would still go into next season with Curry.

Saying that, Curry’s future with the Detroit Pistons is still tenuous at best. His erratic coaching schemes, substitution and lineup patterns and inability to form any kind of cohesive unit ensure that he will not last long in this league if he does not get better. Losing Chauncey Billups and replacing him with Allen Iverson should not have meant the Pistons dropped from the #2 seed and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance to the #8 seed and a probable first-round exit.

There are other factors, but Curry has to take most of the blame for this free-fall. Which reflects back to Curry’s boss, Joe Dumars. Putting a rookie head coach into the situation Curry was put into was almost ensuring a chaotic season. If Rasheed Wallace and other Pistons wouldn’t give Flip Saunders the trust and respect during the NBA playoffs, did Joe believe they would listen to a rookie head coach who has never held that position before? Which is one reason why Joe will give Curry a chance with a restructured Piston team next season, but Curry’s leash will be short.

Matt Watson, Detroit Bad Boys: For better or worse, he’ll get another year to prove himself. He’s not a great coach by any stretch, but this was his rookie year, so he should be better with a bit more experience. Plus, I’m guessing Joe Dumars probably won’t pull the rug out from under him again by trading his best player the first week of the season.

Zack Slabotsky, Count That Baby And A Foul: Curry will almost definitely be back next year. If the Pistons show progress next season, he will earn a prolonged stay in Detroit. If not, I think Dumars will assess the coaching situation at the end of next season.

Brian Packey, Motown String Music: There are so many grumblings about Michael Curry’s ineptness as head coach and people crying out that he should be gone for someone like Avery Johnson this off-season.  With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more with those people.  This is Curry’s first year on the job and he was thrown into a terribly awkward situation two games into his first season when Joe Dumars traded his star team-player point guard away for A.I.-guy, “the answer.”  Curry, for the talent he had, managed to play a full career as an NBA journeyman, he was president of the NBA’s Player Association, and served as Vice President in the NBDL.  This tells you he’s managed to hold important leadership positions before.  In addition, throughout those years, Curry has been known as incredibly hard working and a people’s person.  What makes you think, given his history of hard work and dedication to succeed and this season’s circumstances, he should be gone after just one year? I think it would be highly unfair and I think there’s a better chance of Allen Iverson suiting up in the playoffs (zero) than Curry getting fired after this year.

Jesse Murphy, Pistons Nation: I can’t see Curry getting much run as head coach if he continues to underachieve with a quality roster and is so wishy washy with lineups and rotations.  Better coaches have gotten their walking papers here for less.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: There’s no doubt. Curry has done a poor job this year. But it’s only his first season, so he could still improve.

Dealing with the Iverson trade was certainly a large challenge. But better coaches could have handled it.

Curry has been groomed by Dumars for this job. I’m concerned to a degree he will give Curry more leeway because of this. Dumars has cut ties with Billups, Ben Wallace, Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle, though. And he definitely had strong ties with those guys.

4. If you were Detroit’s coach, how would you adjust the rotation?

Chris McCosky, Detroit News: He can’t adjust it any more. He has tweaked the rotation all season, mostly because of the trade and injuries. Just these past few games has he settled on what appears to be the best rotation and he is wisely sticking to it and letting it stabilize. Will Bynum, Kwame Brown and Jason Maxiell are going to be the primary bench players in the playoffs behind the starters — Wallace, McDyess, Prince, Hamilton and Stuckey. No need to change it.

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: At this point there is only so much the coach can do. Playoffs are about exploiting matchups, so Curry has to play it game by game.

Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: They were too small up front this season. Kwame Brown played a little more consistently later in the season, but Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson haven’t progressed as many believed this season. Maxiell is strictly a reserve, somebody who could provide a spark off the bench. But I would like to see Johnson play more at his more natural position — small forward. They’ve played him too much at power forward because of the lack of frontcourt size and he was too easily overmatched. I’m not ready just yet to concede that Johnson is a bust

Greg Johnson, The Grand Rapids Press: I wouldn’t adjust the rotation beyond going heavier minutes for the veterans. It’s now or never, so earn the money.

Dave Dial, Full Court Press: Now, or during the season? During the season I would have had Allen Iverson, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace starting with Amir Johnson starting most games. Kwame Brown would have started, or have come in early, against teams that started true centers. Then I would have brought in a second unit of Stuckey, Bynum, McDyess and whoever didn’t start in Amir Johnson or Kwame Brown. Situational subs would have been Afflalo, Maxiell and Hermann. One of Curry’s biggest problems was his failure to find a eight or nine man rotation and stick to it. It’s tough for players to develop a cohesive unit if the players keep changing places. The disappearance of Amir Johnson in the Pistons rotation is puzzling, he has the highest On/Off the court numbers of any Detroit Piston regular, meaning when he is on the court, the Pistons score more points than their opponents.

If you mean now, against the Cavaliers in the first-round, then I would say that Curry has his hands full. His best bet is to look at the matchups and pit the best Piston player to counter the effectiveness of the Cavaliers starting and second unit. That’s going to be a tough job, especially when the Pistons are going to have to develop their game plan that revolves around stopping LeBron James. It’s a difficult task, but if I were coach I would look into putting in a pressure, trapping defense. Of course I have even less experience that Curry does in coaching a NBA playoff team, so take that for what it’s worth.

Matt Watson, Detroit Bad Boys: I’d find at least 5-10 minutes a game for Amir Johnson, and I’d run at least a few plays a game specifically for him. Even when he’s played this year he’s usually been a forgotten man on offense, and now he’s about to enter the final year of his contract and we still don’t have a clue what his ceiling is. I’ve lowered my expectations for Amir, but I don’t see why he can’t be a productive rotation player.

Also, it seems like the Pistons have lost at least 3-4 games this year by sticking with Rodney Stuckey in the fourth quarter instead of riding Will Bynum. I know Stuckey is supposed to be a future cornerstone, but actually earning and fighting for minutes is a good thing.

Also (and this isn’t really tweaking the rotation so much as the offensive game plan), I’d insist that guys like Afflalo and Herrmann get more touches in the corners. If you’re going to play at an extremely slow pace like the Pistons do, you need to be efficient with your possessions, and ignoring the three-point shot like the Pistons did for long stretches this year is begging for trouble. In fact, I no longer care that Rasheed Wallace camps out behind the line — despite what some fans think, he’s hardly automatic in the post anymore.

Zack Slabotsky, Count That Baby And A Foul: I would give a big chunk of Jason Maxiell’s minutes to Amir Johnson. I don’t buy the hype with Maxiell, but I have prime seats on Johnson’s bandwagon. Johnson is very good defensively, while Maxiell is a liability, even if no one else is willing to admit as much. Maxiell may be a smarter defender, but as the cliché goes, “you can’t teach size.” Aside from that, I’m fairly pleased with the current rotation.

Brian Packey, Motown String Music: If I were Detroit’s coach, I would play Walter Herrman 30 minutes a game because I think he’s fun to watch.  Seriously, the rotation is tough to analyze as it often depends on the opponent.  That’s probably a cop out, but it’s true too.  I wouldn’t mess with the rotation we had during our recent three-game winning streak.  I think Will Bynum and Aaron Afflalo get just enough minutes to the point where they are maximized.  Jason Maxiell should see 15-20 minutes a night with Kwame Brown seeing maybe 20+.  Against the Cavs in the first round, I think it’ll be important to rotate accordingly with the Cavs.  Timing up the rests coach gives the players will be underrated keys to winning games.  I also think the Pistons are going to have to rotate often as I have a feeling it’s going to be a very physical series, with a lots of fouls.

Jesse Murphy, Pistons Nation: Maxiell would get more consistent minutes.  He’s a monster on the offensive boards and the Pistons need all the tries at scoring the ball they can get.  I like him paired with Dice or Sheed.

With the emergence of Bynum I’d also keep a shorter leash on Stuckey who’s had his struggles at the point.

Bynum has game changing abilities being able to get into the lane like he does.  He also does a great job at getting great looks for guys like Walter Herrmann and Kwame Brown.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: I’d give Tayshaun Prince some minutes at guard. His defense has fallen off, and there’s no point of forcing him to guard LeBron. He just can’t do it anymore.

But his offense has been more consistent than ever before. Without the burden of covering LeBron, his offense should be better than it was in game one.

5. What’s a realistic off-season plan for the Pistons?

Chris McCosky, Detroit News: It’s a huge off-season for Dumars. He can vindicate himself for the Billups trade by upgrading the frontcourt with the cap space. That’s the plan. He’s not trying to wait until 2010 to spend the money. He wants to rebuild the frontcourt this summer, and he can do either by trade (there will be a lot of teams looking to shed payroll, and Dumars is in a position to take on somebody else’s salary drain. The Clippers got Marcus Camby for draft picks last summer, Dumars is in position to work the same type of deal this summer), or he can do it through free agency (Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, David Lee). In addition to landing a quality big or two, I expect the Pistons also to take a run at Ben Gordon.

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: I expect them to be very active and try to land a big man, perhaps Utah’s Carlos Boozer, who can opt out of his deal. They might try to swing a trade, too. I never, ever count out Joe Dumars when it comes to improving his team.

Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: The best plan would be using their salary cap space to orchestrate a trade with either Toronto or Phoenix for Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire who are one year away from free agency. Those teams must make a trade this summer if they’re certain that they cannot sign Bosh and Stoudemire beyond next season because they would have greatly reduced trade value if they wait until the trading deadline next February.

But they’re more likely looking at Plan B, perhaps adding Carlos Boozer and Ben Gordon as free agents this summer.

Greg Johnson, The Grand Rapids Press: Realistic is to do something with the money, as Dumars has said he will do. This team is not going to sell next year, and it is a huge gamble to wait on free agency for another year. A trade, free agent, all manners of things should be tried.

Dave Dial, Full Court Press: Joe Dumars has to have an overall strategy going into the off-season. With the way the Pistons performed this season, he can’t believe that just by subtracting the outgoing free agents and adding one big name free agent, the Pistons are going to be much better next season. Joe has to envision a team he wants, players that fit a style of play his coach will implement, and try to piece together those players to form that team. There will be plenty of opportunities for Joe to restructure the Pistons over the summer. With the cap flexibility he has obtained, along with the economic conditions that have put some teams in dire straights, Dumars will be able to make trades while also luring a free agent to Detroit.

Realistically, Joe could contact teams like New Orleans, Washington and Philadelphia and try to make a trade for one of their players that taking up too much of their cap space, forcing those teams into luxury tax territory. If Joe can send one of his expiring contracts(Kwame Brown, Amir Johnson) to one of those teams for players like Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler or Elton Brand(if healthy), then Dumars could move to trying to sign one of the free agents that will be available in the summer.

If Carlos Boozer does opt out, Dumars may try to focus on bringing him to Detroit. Of course just adding Boozer, while losing Rasheed Wallace and McDyess, won’t elevate the Pistons into contenders for the Title next season. Which is why Joe has to also look to make at least one trade also. If you pair Boozer in the frontcourt with someone like Tyson Chandler or a healthy Elton Brand, the Pistons frontcourt is suddenly a strength.

Matt Watson, Detroit Bad Boys: Both the salary cap and luxury tax threshold will fall due to declining league revenues next year. With so many teams already facing a money crunch, I think we’ll see more more deals like we did last summer when the Nuggets dumped Marcus Camby for a draft pick — when you’re under the salary cap, you don’t have to match salaries, and only the Thunder will have more space than the Pistons. Knowing that, the best course of action is probably "wait and see which teams are panicking."

In terms of free agents, there aren’t any marquee unrestricted guys that jump out at me. If Carlos Boozer opts out, I’d feel him out, but I don’t think he’s a max contract type player. Same goes for Mehmet Okur. There are a handful of restricted free agents I like (Paul Millsap, David Lee), but it’s pretty difficult to pry them away from their original team without drastically overpaying.

I’m guessing they’ll try to re-sign Rasheed Wallace to a modest two-year deal; same with Antonio McDyess, though I can see him doing some serious soul-searching in regards to signing with a ready-made contender.

Zack Slabotsky, Count That Baby And A Foul: This is not new news, but the Pistons need to find a replacement for Rasheed Wallace. It remains to be seen if Joe Dumars will attempt to do that this summer or in 2010. I think that decision largely hinges on the team’s chances of landing Chris Bosh. If Dumars thinks the Pistons can get Bosh in 2010, he should consider bringing Wallace back on a one-year deal. If not, Dumars needs to try to make a splash while other teams are cutting costs.

Brian Packey, Motown String Music: They will have to make a decision with Sheed (which I think will be "see ya"), deciding if they want to spend their money this summer or wait for the big names in 2010.  I think they will probably try to improve with the draft first and foremost and depending on who falls to them at 15, that will impact the rest of their summer spending.  Someone brought up an interesting trade idea, too.  Rip for Bosh this off season and then lock up Bosh long term before he’s a free agent after next season.  I don’t know how feasible that is, or if Toronto would ever do that, but I was intrigued by the idea of it. 

Jesse Murphy, Pistons Nation: They’ve got money, time to go shopping.  Carlos Boozer anyone?  Or see if Toronto wants to get something for Bosh instead of just letting him walk in 2010.

I don’t think we’ll have Rasheed back just because he’s going to have better offer$ from contenders looking to add that missing piece.

Have to pick up Bynum’s option.  See if we can get Dice to give it another go because it’s obvious he can still help this team.

I think Joe may also want to see what he can get for Amir.  He’s just not realizing his potential here.  It’d be in the best interest of him and the team to give him a different look at helping a team.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: The first concern is adding a top big man. That could Carlos Boozer in free agency or trading for someone like Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler and/or Antawn Jamison . I include the “and” because if the Pistons lose Antonio McDyess, who will be a free agent, they’ll need another.

Detroit also needs to add a 3-point shooter, especially considering what Rodney Stuckey could open up for him if the point guard takes the next step. Without Billups, the Pistons really struggled on the perimeter this year.

Which Piston player has been the best to talk to since you’ve been covering the team (how long is that)? Who is the best on this year’s team?

Chris McCosky, Detroit News: I’ve been covering the team for 15 years and actually have been blessed with some great talkers — Grant Hill, Allan Houston, Bison Dele, Terry Mills, Rick Mahorn, Jerry Stackhouse, Ben Wallace, Antonio McDyess — to pick the best is really tough. But, since it’s freshest in my mind, the best, most sincere, straight-forward, thoughtful and available win, lose or draw player I’ve covered was Chauncey Billups.

As for this year, well, I miss Chauncey. My go-to guys, for the most part, have been McDyess and Rip Hamilton.

How does the access the Pistons give you compare to other teams you cover?

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: I find the Pistons to be pretty accommodating and accessible, though
obviously some players are happier to talk to the media than others.

What’s the most interesting that has happened to you or you’ve seen happen while covering the Pistons?

Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: I guess my most memorable moment covering the Pistons was Dennis Rodman wiping me out behind the press table when he dove for a loose ball late in a game against Chicago in 1990. He shattered my computer and knocked me to the floor. I was momentarily dazed, but I do recall hearing Bill Laimbeer congratulating me for "taking one for the team."

How long have you covered the team, and what are the behind-the-scenes differences that stand out to you between then and now?

Greg Johnson, The Grand Rapids Press: I’ve covered the Pistons since 1985 on a fairly regular basis as a back-up beat writer and or columnist. Not much has changed in access in that time, in part because a lot of the same people are still around. Maybe the players are even more private personally. It leaves me with the impression that there are not as many interesting characters on the team as there were in the early days of my coverage.

What is your favorite memory from the Dick Vitale years?

Dave Dial, Full Court Press: My favorite memory is my first real memory as a Detroit Piston fan. Dick Vitale seemed so energetic on the sidelines, and when the Pistons seemed full of Detroit-area players with Vitale as coach, it really seemed like a Detroit team.Terry Tyler, Terry Duerod, John Long and Greg Kelser were fun to root for as a kid. The flamboyant Dick Vitale roaming the sidelines with those players is my favorite Dick Vitale memory. My second favorite is when he was fired. That Bob McAdoo trade was horrible.

What has surprised you the most about covering the team since you got credentials?

Matt Watson, Detroit Bad Boys:

You know how professional athletes are often depicted as selfish, aloof and hard to deal with? Having dealt with players from every team in the league, the stereotype rarely applies in the NBA. Sure, there are always exceptions to the rule, and some players don’t go out of the way to make life easy for reporters with a strict deadline (especially after a loss), but if you have the patience, the majority of guys I’ve dealt with realize that it’s part of their job to make sure that I can do my job. 

(At least, for the most part — Detroit’s starters do an amazing job avoiding the locker room during the 45-minute window the media has access before games, and those that are around generally don’t talk until after the game. But younger guys and bench players? They’ll give you as much as you need.)

It’s also strange talking to specific players I used to root against, and then realizing whatever negative persona I imagined them having didn’t fit. Case in point: Richard Jefferson. I despised him as a fan dating back to when the Nets/Pistons rivalry was relevant. But after talking to him for an article last year, I realized he was about as professional as they come. You can’t help but look at guys in a different light after interacting with them like that.

You gave Richard Hamilton a "C" in your midseason grade, in part, because he struggled without Chauncey Billups. How have you seen Hamilton improve throughout the year?

Zack Slabotsky, Count That Baby And A Foul: This sounds obvious, but RIP is effective when he plays shooting guard alongside a point guard. Michael Curry experimented with two lineups – one with Iverson, a shooting guard, playing point guard and another with Hamilton at small forward – that made it difficult for RIP to excel. Hamilton returned to form once the lineup situation was rectified.

As the newest Pistons blog around, what do you want to offer that isn’t available anywhere else?

Brian Packey, Motown String Music: First and foremost, I’m no different than any other one of the Detroit Pistons blogs in that I want to be able to offer up-to-date news and analysis on what’s happening with our Detroit Pistons.  That being said, every blog has their own style, set up, or voice in their writing and I just hope I can provide a little more pizzazz.

Also, SB Nation is great in that it allows fans to get directly involved with the blog through comments, FanPosts, and FanShots.  I’d like Motown String Music to be the blog where every fan can feel comfortable going to on a daily basis to post their thoughts, link to relevant material, and be heard by the rest of the Pistons fan base.   In the end, I’d like it to be more of an interactive Pistons community rather than just a blog.

I want to thank everyone who participated. I’d also love to see your responses to these questions in the comments.

Professional Game Coverage: Cleveland 102, Detroit 84

ESPN

"James set the tone in opening win over Pistons," by Chris Broussard

We’ve all seen several LeBron masterpieces. And while his 48-point performance against these same (well, sort of) Detroit Pistons in the 2007 playoffs has to go down as his all-time tour de force, what he did Saturday in Game 1 of this first-round series was about as good as it gets.

Still just 24 years old, he was so poised, so cool, so collected in dismantling Rasheed and Rip and Tay that it was ridiculous. He played 40 minutes, 52 seconds, scored 38 points on 13-of-20 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds, handled the ball enough to give out a game-high seven assists, and never committed a turnover. Not one.

He let the Pistons know from jump street that their dreams of pulling off a Buster Douglas-type upset were folly by scoring 12 points in the first quarter, including a couple of dunks that had Sheed all but cowering beneath the basket.

In the second quarter, he pulled down a defensive rebound, pushed the ball up court (you know he plays point about 60 percent of the time), and threw a left-handed, Stockton-esque pass off the bounce that found a streaking Joe Smith for an easy dunk.

Seven minutes later, he hit Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the post, cut toward the basket and caught Z’s alley-oop pass at the rim for a sweet finger roll. Then on the very next possession, he hit a 41-footer off the glass to beat the buzzer to end the half.

He had 22 points, more than any other player scored the entire game, after the first two quarters.

"It’s kind of scary to say this when talking about LeBron,” teammate Daniel Gibson said. "But this is the time of year when the best players take it to another level.”

"Cavs Learn Pistons’ Ways," by Elias Sports Bureau

The Cavaliers played Pistons basketball, committing only four turnovers in their 102-84 victory over Detroit. This is the 39th season in which the NBA has compiled team turnovers. Until Saturday’s game, only the Pistons had turned the ball over fewer than five times in a playoff game: three versus the Magic (2008 Eastern Conference semis), four versus the Spurs (2005 Finals) and four versus the Celtics (1991 Eastern Conference semis).

CBS Sports

"One thing: Will the Cavs wither without LeBron?," by Gregg Doyel

And Detroit is what it is — overmatched. This series is such a blowout that the Atlanta Hawks scout who sat next to me ignored them. Literally. He took copious notes on the Cavaliers and nothing on the Pistons. He didn’t want to waste his time writing about Detroit.

Can’t say I blame him. I don’t want to waste my time writing about a Detroit team that couldn’t be bothered to stop 7-3 Cleveland centerZydrunas Ilgauskas from running down his own missed 20-footer, then finding teammate Mo Williams, who continued onto the rim and finished with an uncontested lay-up. Disgusting. On recent Detroit teams, someone would have broken Williams in half. Of course, recent Detroit teams wouldn’t have let 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas run down his own missed shot, considering Ilgauskas can’t run at all.

FOX Sports

"When Pistons closed gap, LeBron stepped up," by Kerouac Smith

Back to the new sidekick for a moment. Williams struggled after picking up two quick fouls in the first half and was ineffective both playing along side James and leading the second unit. He salvaged the performance with a couple of second-half 3-pointers but still wound up with just 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

At least he took care of the ball, finishing with zero turnovers as the Cavs finished with just four overall. And Williams isn’t expecting any carry-over effect into Game 2.

"Once I got that first half out of the way, I was ready to go," said Williams.

Sporting News

"LeBron James’ quest for NBA title is inevitable," by Sean Deveney

Folks in Cleveland don’t really like to admit this, but the cast of characters around James is only somewhere between fair and pretty good. Besides Ilgauskas, every starter Cavs starter was a castoff elsewhere. The Bucks didn’t like the way Williams handled the role of point guard — he was too much of a shooting guard — so they dealt him. The same could be said for the Delonte West, who was unwelcome in Seattle. The Bulls were thrilled to dump Ben Wallace’s salary onto Cleveland, and even with Wallace hurt, remember that Anderson Varejao could not get a team to give him a contract offer when he was a restricted free agent two summers ago.

But the Cavaliers have done two things very well. First, they’ve put players like West, Williams, Wallace and Varejao into very good complementary roles. No player is asked to do more than he can. That makes those role players look deceptively good.

Detroit News

"Cavaliers roll over Pistons in Game 1," by Chris McCosky

"I know this is the playoffs," James said. "It’s a different level of basketball. Mentally you have to be more in tune. Whatever the defense gives me or wherever I see cracks, I try to attack."

Cracks? The path through the Pistons’ defense had to seem like a four-lane highway to him. Nothing the Pistons did fazed him. James certainly didn’t appear to take the physical pounding he typically takes against the Pistons.

"Easy for you to say when you aren’t out there," James said. "It was a very physical game tonight. Maybe the games in the past you used to see me get knocked into the stands, maybe that’s what you are used to.

"I think we are ready for whatever — a finesse game, a physical game, we can adjust."

The only time the Pistons made some noise was when James sat down. And he only sat down for seven minutes.

"Pistons’ defense nonexistent in Game 1," by Chris McCosky

Apparently, the Pistons talked before the game about not letting LeBronJames get off to a fast start. He had 12 points, hitting six of his first eight shots.

"We tried to establish ourselves on the defensive end and I thought some of the things we did were really good," said Pistons coach Michael Curry. "Except for our recognition of them going to LeBron early. We allowed him to get to the basket on the first four possessions."

But it wasn’t just that James scored 38; he did it so efficiently (making 13 of 20 shots) and four other Cavaliers scored in double figures. In the past, the Pistons could take away one or the other.Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press

"LeBron, Cavs bull forward," by Drew Sharp

How many times during those haughty days of 50-win seasons and top playoff seeds did we thumb our noses on those sub-.500 wrecks that stumbled into the playoffs? Their only qualifications for extended life were that league rules demanded eight playoff teams from each conference.

This season, the Pistons are the NBA’s lone playoff representative with a losing record.

A four-game sweep might prove more embarrassing than missing the playoffs. Helplessly standing in James’ way might seem like cruel and unusual punishment for a team of the Pistons’ recent playoff pedigree.

"Piston defense looks confused in Game 1," by Vince Ellis

By playing the Cavs so often (four times per season and facing them in the playoffs two of the past three seasons), the Pistons generally have a good feel for what the Cavs are trying to do.

But this is a different Cavs team than in the past. With the addition of Mo Williams and a cadre of shooters, gone are the days where the Cavs would just throw the ball to James and have everyone else get out of the way.

"A couple of years ago, we did a lot of standing," James said. "We relied on me sometimes just to dribble and get us into making a play for either myself or a teammate.

"The ball movement that we have and the way we rely on my teammates to make plays is at an all-time high for us as a team just because we’ve been doing it all year, and repetition helps."

"Prince’s injury hurts more against LeBron," by Vince Ellis

But what wasn’t expected was for Tayshaun Price to be suffering from sore ribs, an injury he sustained in the regular-season finale at Miami on Wednesday night.

If you ever have had sore ribs, you know Prince isn’t in top shape to be battling the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James.

But since James plays small forward and it is the postseason, the Pistons and Prince have little choice.

"It’s not stopping me from jumping or running for that matter, it just locks up when I’m out of the game and sit for a minute or even during time-outs," said Prince, who had a wrap around his waist after the game. "That’s why during the time-outs I was standing, because I really couldn’t sit down."

"Instant replay," by Vince Ellis

It wasn’t clear before the game whether former Piston Ben Wallace (sore left knee tendon) would play, but he entered the game at 1:45 of the first quarter for the Cavs. He played just under 12 minutes.

Booth Newspapers

"Pistons can’t keep up with Cavaliers in Game 1," by A. Sherrod Blakely

Pistons guard Richard Hamilton was asked about whether Detroit shooting a respectable 46.2 percent for the game was a good sign.

"Not at all," Hamilton said. "When you shoot 46 percent and you still lose by almost 20, you can’t hang your hat on that because there have been times this year where we shot the ball well and still lost."

"Pistons disappointed with their defense in Game 1," by A. Sherrod Blakely

"Experience is huge when it comes to the playoffs," Detroit coach Michael Curry said after the Pistons dropped a 91-88 game to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

"During the regular season, it matters, but not as much as it does in the playoffs. And so, we will be depending on that."

The Plain Dealer

"LeBron James’ buzzer beater the highlight of another playoff masterpiece," by Bill Livingston

Pistons coach Michael Curry supposed he might try trapping James more to make him give up the ball. (Altogether now: Ya think?)

James scored 48 points in the playoffs two years ago against the Pistons when former coach Flip Saunders started putting the "former" in his job description by not making James give up the ball and also by instructing his players to go under the screen instead of fight through it and deny him space. James, whose jumper was en mucho fuego, scored until he had put up the last 25 points in a double-overtime victory.

"It’s a good start: Cavaliers in fine form offensively, pulling away to 102-84 victory over Detroit," by Brian Windhorst

But the Cavs blew right through them, breaking the century mark against Detroit in a regulation playoff game for the first time in 14 tries in the James era. It happened with crisp ball movement, textbook spacing, a heady mix of sets, fast-break chances and a game-long focus not to relapse.

Consider the epic double-overtime Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals that saw James score 48 points. In that game the Cavs had 13 assists. Two days later when James spent the evening setting up Daniel Gibson for the game of his life when the Cavs seemed to make everything, they managed 19 and 98 points.

Saturday the Cavs racked up 24 assists, 16 in the first half alone. That doesn’t reflect the afternoon’s final three minutes, which were played on cruise control. They had just five turnovers, setting a franchise low in a playoff game. James had none and seven assists. Mo Williams had none and four assists. Delonte West had two and five assists.

"Stuckey provides Pistons with a bright spot, while Williams is confident he’ll improve for Game 2," by Jodie Valade

But in Saturday afternoon’s Game 1, Rodney Stuckey unexpectedly materialized as the game’s best point guard — finally following the advice of his coaches, attacking the basket, outplaying a hesitant Williams early and not displaying the kind of nerves a second-year player typically might.

"I’m not scared," Stuckey said. "This is what I do for a living. I love playing basketball. Mo Williams is a great point guard, too. He’s an All-Star. That’s what I’m trying to be, so every chance that I can get to play [against] a player like that, I’m going to try to bring it to him."

"Cavaliers Insider: Bumps and bruises, but no bad feelings emerge from Game 1," by Brian Windhorst

Delonte West hit the ground after taking a charge and Rodney Stuckey pushed in front of West’s teammates to be the first to help him up.

Richard Hamilton banged into Zydrunas Ilgauskas after a dunk while hanging on the rim and he quickly patted Ilgauskas on the back to make sure there was no hard feelings.Rasheed Wallace collared LeBron James on a drive to the basket and instantly raised his hand in the NBA tradition of admitting wrongdoing to the officials.

This was a playoff game? No less, a playoff game between the Cavs and Pistons? The rivalry filled with flagrant fouls, bloody foreheads and ejections? Apparently so.

"The Courtside View: Seen and heard around Saturday’s Game 1 of Cavaliers-Pistons," by Mary Schmitt

With LeBron James taking his customary rest at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Pistons took advantage of his absence with a 7-2 run that got them within 80-72 with 8:48 left.

Cavs coach Mike Brown took a timeout, sent in James and wanted to call a post-up play for him. Instead, James found Mo Williams coming off a screen in the right corner, and Williams drained a 3-pointer that effectively ended any Pistons plans for a comeback.

Said Brown, "I have to give credit to [assistant coach John Kuester] for that timeout because I said ‘Let’s put LeBron on the post,’ and Kuester said, ‘No. No. Let’s run this particular play.’ I’m the type of guy, if I look somebody in the eye, or they look me in the eye and tell me to do something and I feel that belief in my gut, then I’m going to go with it. Our guys did a nice job executing it, but the good thing about it is that if it wouldn’t have worked, I could have gotten on Kuester and said, ‘See, I could have called my idea, not yours.’"

Akron Beacon Journal

"LeBron sizzles, Pistons fizzle," by Patrick McManamon

But most amazing was that James was on the court for just about 41 minutes and had zero turnovers and seven assists.

”It doesn’t really amaze us anymore,” Cavs guard Mo Williams said.

It should.

Because of James, the Pistons lost by 18 in a game when they shot 46 percent and turned the ball over only seven times.

Williams did not shoot well, and the Cavs’ second-leading scorer was Joe Smith, who played very well off the bench.

With all that, the Cavs won 102-84.

James? Sensational in a very business-like, efficient, workmanlike way.

”His pacing offensively was very good,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said.

And Raphael’s brush strokes are pretty good, too.

"First win in the bank," by George M. Thomas

The first quarter of Saturday’s game went against the norm. The teams lit up the scoreboard in the first 12 minutes, with the Cavs shooting 60 percent and the Pistons 56. Many of the Pistons’ points came courtesy of point guard Rodney Stuckey, who scored 10 in the quarter. Stuckey drove into the lane seemingly at will to make easy layups.

One team had to eventually step up and play some defense. That was when the Cavs created some separation in the second quarter courtesy of defense and rebounding. They kept the Pistons off the offensive boards and slowed down Stuckey, who scored just four points. The Cavs took a 57-45 halftime lead and plenty of momentum after James connected on a 41-foot bank shot as time expired.

"Joe Smith sparks Cavaliers’ run," by Tom Gaffney

Reserve Joe Smith was reacquired for games and situations just like this.

Smith, 33, a 14-year veteran in his second stint with the Cavs, scored nine points in a four-minute span in the second quarter Saturday in a 102-84 victory over the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The Cavs were ahead just 30-25 when Smith started his personal onslaught. It sparked the Cavs to a run that eventually made it 57-45 at the half.

”That’s the thing about coming off the bench. You have to bring energy,” said the 6-foot-10 Smith. ”I was fortunate I was able to find spots out there on the floor, to make things happen.”

The Morning Journal

"It ain’t over yet, well… yeah it is," by Jim Ingraham

The Detroit Pistons this season won 39 games.

The Cavs won 39 games. . . AT HOME.

That, in a nutshell, is what a No.1 vs. a No.8 seed looks like in the NBA.

The onus is on the No.8 seed to prove that its players don’t, as ABC analyst Mark Jackson said of the mailing-it-in Warriors during a late-season no-show, "have one foot on the court and the other foot in Cancun.’’

So the gist of what happened at Quicken Loans Arena Saturday was essentially this:

Cavs to Pistons: "You ain’t even close to us. You weren’t in the regular season. You ain’t today. And you ain’t gonna be for three more games after this.’’

Pistons to Cavs: "OK!’’

"Cavs hold serve with dominant victory," by Bob Finnan

He connected on a 41-foot, 3-point bomb off the glass at the first-half buzzer.

It was demoralizing for the Pistons, who trailed at halftime, 57-45.

"The 3 helped momentum," James said. "It brings the house down. The crowd will go crazy. My range is unlimited."

He was asked if he called glass on the play.

”Yes, after I hit it," he joked.

"Stuckey only spark for Pistons," by Mike Perry

Rodney Stuckey lives for the postseason.

As a rookie last season, Stuckey had his "coming out" party during the NBA Playoffs. He saw action off the bench in 17 games and scored 8.2 points in slightly over 22 minutes per contest after being forced into an extended role when starting point guard Chauncey Billups was limited with an injury.

After the Pistons were bounced out of the playoffs by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, Stuckey then turned some heads during scrimmages against Team USA as the "Dream Team" prepared for the 2008 Olympics.

"Smith proves a super sub against Pistons," by Bob Finnan

The Cavs were the 12th team in NBA history to win at least 66 games in a season. Nine of the previous 11 teams that won 66 or more have gone on to win the NBA championship.

"The ‘Q’ is special in the playoffs," by David Glasier

The inside of The Q was an ocean of maroon, aka "wine,’’ for Game 1. Fans received a wine-colored t-shirt emblazoned with the Cavs logo and the team’s playoff mantra of "One Goal.’’ That goal, of course, is winning the NBA title.

Cavs the Blog

"Recap: (15) Dominance is a state of mind, and a point differential.," by John Krolik

From the opening whistle to when he sat down, LeBron was absolutely relentless. He was looking to get to the basket at every possible opportunity in the half-court and blowing right by his man. He was looking to get out in transition at every opportunity. He was firing laser-beam passes with either hand when they doubled him. He was forcing contact and getting himself to the line. He was making hard cuts off the ball and finishing at the basket. He was in full on loot, pillage, and destroy mode, and sending a clear message to anyone watching that he fully intends to take the championship by force this season.

Most frigteningly of all for the rest of the league, LeBron flashed a midrange and a post game tonight, going 6-9 from midrange (although a few of those were unorthodox floaters and runners) and posting Aaron Affalo whenever he got the opportunity, getting easy looks from about 8 feet and flashing an absolutely ILLEGAL spin move to beat him at one point, although he couldn’t finish. LeBron went 8-10 in the first half, and I was most excited about one of his two misses. We’re used to LeBron scrapping and MacGuyvering in the playoffs, or feeling out the game and pouncing when he feels the time is right. Tonight, he made the game his, and never gave the Pistons hope.

Game Review: Pistons no match for Cleveland, and that probably won’t change

The Pistons are overmatched.

Record-wise, Detroit is the worst team still playing. Cleveland is the best.

If there was any confusion before this series started, the Cavaliers’ 102-84 win today should clear all doubt.

But the Pistons had a brief glimmer of hope at the beginning of the fourth quarter. They opened the period with a 7-2 run to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to eight and force them to call timeout.

Then Cleveland put LeBron James back in.

With every Piston eyeing him right after the stoppage, he found Mo Williams in the corner for a 3-pointer. On the following possession, he drove in for an easy layup. Running back to play defense, he couldn’t hide a giant grin.

Ah, to be king.

That was the beginning of a 10-2 Cleveland run, making the final five minutes of the game garbage time.

A mix of common and uncommon deficiencies did Detroit in today. The worst part for the Pistons? It doesn’t look like any of them will improve.

Defense

Here are Detroit’s ranks in defensive efficiency the last six seasons: fourth, seventh, fifth, third, second and fourth.

This year, the Pistons are 16th.

Even in the two years they didn’t make the playoffs in the last 14 seasons, the Pistons had a higher ranking.

The Cavaliers have the league’s fourth-best offense, so it’s no surprise they scored with a lot. But this easily?

Cleveland had an offensive rating of 130.5. Detroit yielded a higher total just once during the regular season, a loss to Houston on Jan. 25.

The Cavaliers assisted on 65 percent of their field goals.

And the Cavaliers faced so little pressure, they had just four turnovers. The only time they had fewer during the regular season, they tied an NBA record with just three against Portland.

Cleveland’s offensive success started and ended with LeBron, who had 38 points on 20 shots, eight rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers in 41 minutes.

Tayshaun Prince simply can’t bother James. Once an elite defender, Prince has fallen off. His defensive rating is the worst of his career and second-to-last on the team.

Obviously, mortals can’t stop James. But some can slow him.

Prince isn’t one of them.

Inside scoring

The Pistons looked very comfortable at the beginning of the game. 

On the negative side of that, they had no sense of urgency. But on the positive side, there were no nerves.

Detroit was calm in an intimidating road arena, and that helped them make their early jumpers. But with all jump-shooting teams, they didn’t fall forever.

The Pistons were shooting 55.6 percent at the end of the first quarter. That fell to 46.2 percent by the end of the game.

After Cleveland tightened up and the jumpers stopped falling, the Pistons had no ther options. They simply can’t score effectively inside.

Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess take fewer free throws per game than other team’s starting front court save Miami.

They shot a grand total of zero today.

And on top of his miserable defensive day, Prince shot just 2-of-7 for four points.

Rebounding

The Pistons are 22-17 when they outrebound their opponent and 17-29 when they don’t.

After beginning the season as a poor rebounding team, Detroit quietly improved. Antonio McDyess came back after Denver bought him out, and the Pistons went away from small ball.

In its final 55 games, Detroit rebounded 51.7 percent of misses. In the course of a season, that would rank the Pistons sixth. But that’s two spots behind Cleveland.

Before the Pistons won the rebounding battle 7-3 in garbage time, Cleveland had a 31-24 advantage on the glass.

Once again, Prince, third on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game, should take much of the blame. He had just one rebound in 38 minutes.

McDyess, who leads Detroit with 9.8 rebounds per game, had just five in 31 minutes, too.

Rest of the series

Since moving to Detroit, the Pistons have been the lower seed in 16 . They have lost 13, soon to be 14, of those.

During the telecast, Jeff Van Gundy said he had never seen a team that didn’t high five each other during warmups — until Detroit today.

The Pistons as we know them are finished. Once a shining example of teamwork and chemistry, the Pistons don’t even seem like they like being around each other.

They’ll be out of their misery soon enough.