THEY DID IT.
The Detroit Pistons. Yes, the lowly Detroit Pistons of what seems forever now, finally made the NBA Playoffs.
King James is what.
The Pistons were extremely competitive against the elite of the Eastern Conference, going 3-1 against Cleveland in the regular season. In wins they averaged a 6.5 point margin. However, Detroit is getting Cleveland at a bad time as the Cavs, and more specifically LeBron James, are clicking right now. James was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week last week, averaging a near triple-double of 28 points per game, 9.3 rebounds, and 10.7 assists. The Pistons cannot hope to stop the King, but merely slow him down. To win, Detroit must stop the rest of the “James Gang.” This includes Kevin Love who is embracing his role as the third option, and point guard Kyrie Irving, who hopes to be healthy throughout the entire playoffs. Below we break down each projected matchup the series will present.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving vs. Reggie Jackson
This will be a battle of two great, young point guards. Irving, the more notable of the two, has amazing ball-handling skills and scoring ability. Jackson, on the other hand, has finally come into his own leading the Pistons back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. This season, Jackson’s claim has been his clutch play. In clutch time, which is defined as the last five minutes of a game, or overtime, when a team is trailing by five points or less, he leads the league with 178 points, as of April 12. When their respective teams have played together, it was close in every statistical category except one: scoring. Irving averaged 29 points, compared to Jackson’s 19. Irving will likely increase his intensity in the playoffs, which will force Jackson to step his defense up. If Jackson cannot respond, the younger point guard will be in for a long series.
Edge: Slightly for Irving
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith vs. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
An interesting matchup presents itself here as the historically inconsistent J.R. Smith will be up against a much improved Caldwell-Pope. In the regular season Caldwell-Pope had the advantage across the board. He almost doubled Smith’s scoring output, 17 points per game to 9.3. Smith’s best attribute, his three-point shooting, was also less than Caldwell-Pope’s. But Smith is a wild-card and if he catches fire from deep, it completely changes the Cavs’ game and he becomes a different player. With that being said, Kentavious has stepped up his defense this season, and should be able contain Smith’s long-range shooting, which in turn will shut down the rest of his game.
Small Forward: LeBron James vs. Tobias Harris
This is no knock against Tobias, but if you replaced his name with any other player in the league, and matched them up against LeBron, James would win every single time. James is playing at an exceptionally high level of late. Yet, he only averaged 20.7 points per game against the Pistons in the regular season. That almost does not matter as James is on a mission, and regular season stats will be forgotten in his mind. He is too formidable for Detroit to stop. He changes the game in every single facet. On the other side, Harris has transitioned well to the Pistons after being traded to Detroit. He has given the Pistons another option on the court and has impacted both ends of the floor with his rebounding. However, he has struggled mightily against Cleveland this year, mainly due to being guarded by James. That will not change this series.
Power Forward: Kevin Love vs. Marcus Morris
Just going off names, this would be an easy pick in favor of Love. The play of these two shows differently, however. Morris, since being traded to Detroit this summer, has really improved his game. Known for taking defensive plays off, has thrown his attitude out the window for coach Stan Van Gundy. He has also become the stretch-four that Van Gundy always his installed in his offense. For Love, he has struggled throughout the season, in what seems is attributed to not being comfortable in his place on the team. There were trade rumors all year about him being sent out of town, and that he and James were not getting along. All that aside, Love finally showed what he could be capable of in Cleveland. In his last 10 games, he has averaged 18.1 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game. In a contest of stretch forwards, Love is the ultimate when he is mentally in it. He will outmatch Morris on the rebounding end, and that will be enough.
Center: Tristan Thompson vs. Andre Drummond
Talk about rebounding being a factor. [su_pullquote align=”right”]Both of these players are some of the NBA’s best in terms of rebound production. [/su_pullquote]Drummond, the league leader in rebounds per game, has become a true force defensively. Thompson, though underrated, is a vital cog for the Cavs. His numbers may not show it, but Thompson changes the game on both ends with his presence. When these two met, Drummond overwhelmingly won the battle. The only thing stopping Drummond is a complete offensive game. He rebounding skills are a level above Thompson’s, and it will show in this series.
Detroit will not get run over by Cleveland, unlike the last time they met in the playoffs in 2009, where the Pistons were swept. Detroit will put up a fight each game, forcing Cleveland to win late in games. However, the fact that the Cavs are finally playing together, along with LeBron playing his best basketball all season, will make it hard for Detroit to win this series.
Cleveland in five games.
The Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Caveliers tip off Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs. The game will be broadcasted on ABC.