2007 NBA Playoff Preview - Conference Finals
by John Canton(NBA)
Posted on May 21, 2007, 12:37 PM
John: We're a bit late with the preview of this round by missing game one of the Western finals, but frankly we both expected the Spurs to beat the Jazz to start that series, so really we missed nothing. Now we're in the conference finals with four teams left. I think in the case of Detroit, Cleveland and San Antonio they are teams we kind of expected to be here while Utah is obviously the surprise of the four teams. It's not the most marketable final four for the league, but you can't deny that these teams earned their places in this round after impressive victories in the last round. Mike's up first and like usual he writes a lot more than I write. Enjoy.
(1) Detroit vs. (2) Cleveland
Mike: Iíd be lying if I said I was as excited for this series as I should be.
Detroit defeated my Chicago Bulls in the last round 4-2, but looked a lot less impressive at the end of the series than they did at the beginning of the series. Detroit came out and won their first two games at home, completely shutting down Chicago in every facet of the game. For Game 3 back in Chicago, the Bulls completely beat down the Pistons for two and a half quarters, only to completely collapse in the last half of the third quarter, dropping from a 19-point lead to a 1-point lead, and eventually losing by 7 in a real crushing game mentally. However, Chicago battled back in Game 4, got the win, and maintained their second half lead that escaped them in Game 3. Detroit had yet another mental lapse in Game 5, and looked woefully unprepared to handled the Bulls onslaught, who shot the ball well for the second straight game. Game 6 was back in Chicago, and while Detroit ended up winning the game and the series, they really looked average on the court, and a large part of their victory was due to the Bulls horrendous shooting from the field, as they turned in another sub-40% shooting night. And to be honest, a good part of the Bulls failures in the first two games probably had something to do with the Bulls 7-day rest between series, as they came out very rusty and very sloppy. Basically, what this all adds up to was a very uninspiring series victory for Detroit, who had a chance to look strong against a quality opponent, and instead came out looking very unmotivated to win an championship.
Fortunately for the Pistons, the Cleveland Cavaliers donít seem to have much more fire in their system following their five game series victory of the New Jersey Nets. Despite having the lead in the series the whole time, it seemed at times like Cleveland was destined to lose because of their apparent lack of interest in winning. Lebron James receives his fair amount of criticism for Ďmailing it iní during games in the regular season. However, something heís gotten in the habit of doing lately is mailing it in during the playoffs, which is unacceptable. Itís one thing to do it in the regular season; itís a long season, there isnít always the urgency there to play to win (see: OíNeal, Shaquille). However, once the playoffs come around, you have two months to win 16 games. Thatís it, thatís the only thing you should be focused on. And still, we see Lebron coasting through games, disinterested in whether his team wins or loses. The Nets are a veteran team, with quality players in Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter. For whatever reason, however, they constantly fail to live up to expectations, and this series was no exception. With the seemingly lethargic Cavs inviting the Nets to take the series, they were simply unable to put anything together, and as a result Cleveland advances to their first conference finals in 14 years.
So, with neither team seemingly interested in winning a championship this year (Either team is going to get steamrolled by the West; I thought Detroit had a shot, but the way they played the Bulls, forget about it), on paper this looks like an easy win for the Pistons. Outside of Lebron (26 ppg, 8 rpg, 8 apg), no one on Cleveland has made a real impact. Zydrunas Ilgauskas has averaged 14 and 10, but players like Larry Hughes has shot 36.5% from the field, and Aleksander Pavlovic only 38.2%. These are the players that Cleveland needs to get production from in order to win games. Anderson Varejao is another one, and in 19 minutes a game heís only averaging 4 points and 6 rebounds. As has been the problem in the past, Cleveland just doesnít have the supporting cast needed to get the job done against a team like Detroit. Add in the fact that Lebron has been seen lacking that killer instinct to finish other teams in games in the postseason, and they are in for a world of hurt.
When Chauncey Billups is playing well, Detroit is very difficult to stop. However, even if Chauncey ends up in foul trouble or isnít shooting well, the Pistons are still dangerous. Tayshaun Prince is in a word unstoppable, offensively and defensively. He will give Lebron endless problems, both in James trying to score and trying to stop Prince from scoring. Rasheed Wallace is great at hitting that momentum-killing shot whenever the situation arises, and he is a monster shot-blocker in the lane. Rip Hamilton is always moving around the court, and heís going to get his points no matter what. Chris Webber wonít be a consistent presence, but he has the ability to score points on offense, and he will always be in the paint pulling down rebounds and blocking shots. This is, of course, not even including Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, Nazr Mohammed, Carlos Delfino, Ronald Murray, and Lindsey Hunter coming off the bench and being productive. Just so many weapons on this team. So much so, that even an unmotivated team like this current Pistons team is playing has the ability to beat a team like the Cavs.
In the end, Iím giving the Cavs the benefit of the doubt and saying they will win one game, but I really wouldnít be surprised if this was a sweep.
Detroit wins series, 4-1
John: I don't think this is going to be much of a series because the Pistons are head and shoulders above the Cavs in pretty much every year. I remember when they've played the Cavs in the past when they've done the best job on LeBron James of any team in the NBA. Thanks to Tayshaun Prince's length he can get in James face, make things tough for him and I think what you'll see are games where James shoots around 40% from the field, which isn't going to be enough to get by this very tough and experienced Pistons team.
On the other side of the ball the Pistons should be able to do their thing on offense despite the Cavs defense being improved from the first half of the year. Larry Hughes should play good defense on Chauncey Billups because of his size, but can they shut down every one of the Pistons weapons at the same time? I don't think so. I think the biggest difference in the series will be Rasheed Wallace, who seems to be playing great again and should eat up Drew Gooden inside.
The reason I like the Pistons is because they have more weapons, they have better weapons and they are the better defensive team. Whoever came up with the "defense wins championships" was telling the truth because this team is proving it by making their fifth straight Eastern Conference finals. The defense isn't as good as it was three years ago when they won the title, but it's good enough. The other thing is the offense is better than it was three years ago, so it really balances things out. Like Mike, I got the Pistons in five. I think Detroit wins the first two, Cleveland pulls out game three and then Detroit finishes it off by winning games 4 and 5 while barely celebrating on their home court because they know they got one more series to win.
Pistons in 5
(3) San Antonio vs. (4) Utah
Mike: Okay, so the Golden State hype train ran out of gas. Buy hey, I just couldnít jump on the Utah bandwagon yet considering their total tank job in the second half of the regular season. A lot of people seem to be ready to hand this series over to the Spurs before it even begins, and while I would be inclined to agree that San Antonio will probably win and head to the Finals, I think it will be a much tougher series for Duncan and Co. than many are expecting.
Utah is coming off an impressive series win over the Cinderella Golden State Warriors. After dismantling the top team in the NBA Dallas Mavericks in Round 1, the Warriors had a lot of momentum going their way in their matchup against the Jazz. After nearly losing each of the first two games in the series, the Jazz took an unconvincing 2-0 lead into Oakland, with the seemingly impossible task of winning on the road @ Golden State. However, they remained composed, played their game, and just put too much pressure on Don Nelsonís shooters, and the magic ran out. Carlos Boozer was especially impressive, averaging 24 and 12. Deron Williams has just excelled in his rookie year, as evidenced by his numbers so far in the playoffs (16.5 ppg, 9 apg, 4.6 rpg). Mehmet Okur and Derek Fisher are also scoring double digits, with Matt Harpring adding 10 and 5 off the bench, and AK-47 Andrei Kirilenko also contributing with 9.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
The Spurs just knocked off the most difficult obstacle left in their path for another championship in the Phoenix Suns. Suns fans everywhere will whine about Amare Stoudemire missing Game 5 (Although no one wants to seem to blame Stoudemire for breaking a rule), and sure itís a stupid rule, but he broke it, he was suspended, and the Suns couldnít win a pivotal game 5 at home, allowing the Spurs to defeat Phoenix soundly at home and win the series in 6. Stoudemire or not, the Spurs played great defense on the Suns and Steve Nash in particular. Manu Ginobli came up huge on numerous occasions, and the team as a whole has a lot of different players able to contribute in a lot of different ways. Fabricio Oberto, Robert Horry, and Brent Barry all have been able to come off the bench and at the very least make a defensive stand, and at the most score some points or grab some rebounds. Oh, and thereís that Tim Duncan guy as well.
One of the keys to this series overall will be how effective Carlos Boozer can be for the Jazz. He is the teamís leading scorer and the teamís leading rebounder. However, he will not have the easy time against either Francisco Elson or Tim Duncan that he did against Golden State. He is going to have to fight for those points, and itís going to be important for Deron Williams to find him good looks. Boozer is also going to have to get help from Mehmet Okur under the hoop. The Spurs frontcourt is very tough defensively, and Utah will really need to be aggressive. Kirilenko will probably have a hard time getting anything going against Bruce Bowen, who really gets players out of sync. Of course, it wonít be any easier for Deron Williams and Derek Fisher, who have to face Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker. This team is just so tough defensively, there arenít any weaknesses at any particular spot. They arenít a real deep team, but neither is Utah, so that probably wonít be much of a problem. San Antonio also has the experience, winning three championships since 1999. While I think Utah will be a tough challenge for the Spurs, San Antonio is just the better team here, and should win the series convincingly.
San Antonio wins series, 4-2
John: How many people thought the Jazz would get this far aside from people that are Jazz fans? I doubt there were very many. They've earned it, though. They outclassed the Rockets by beating them in games 6 and 7 through their toughness, rebounding and overall balance scoring. Against the Warriors they showed that you really have to have an inside game to go deep in the playoffs. Of course we know that about the Spurs too. They're proven goods. Everybody knows what they have and what they bring to the table, but you can't really stop them. They have to stop themselves, which probably isn't going to happen.
I think the Spurs have all the advantages in this series because they match up very well against the two people that are the best on the Jazz: Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. I think the Booze will have a tough time in this series against Tim Duncan because he's giving up four inches, he can't overpower him and he'll have a tough time rebounding the ball too. As for Williams, he has the advantage over Parker in terms of his size, but he'll have a tough time defending him and will expend a lot of energy on both ends of the floor trying to keep up. I just think Parker's playing better than he ever has, so it'll be very tough for Williams to have an advantage. They need Williams to have that advantage, or else they're in trouble. That's why I'm forecasting doom.
The Spurs are going to win because they're deeper, they play better defense and the fact that they've been here before really helps them. I'm not a huge fan of the experience factor because I think it gets overblown a lot. At this stage in the playoffs, though, that kind of stuff helps. Ultimately, the Spurs will also win because Tim Duncan is the best basketball player still playing. He's too much for the Jazz. You stick Boozer on him and he uses his size to score at will. He's quicker than Okur, who is not a good defender. Duncan can beat him in many ways. If you double him their shooters will destroy you. The Spurs just have too much. Who's playing bad on that team? What weakness do they have? I don't see many. It might be a five game series, but I'm going to predict six just as Mike did. Utah might win both home games in games 3 and 4. I can't see them winning more than two, though.
Spurs in 6
That's it. Hope you enjoyed it. We'll see you back here in a couple weeks for a preview of the Finals. If we're right then it'll be Spurs/Pistons. If we're wrong then we'll be here despite the fact that we'd be really shocked by whatever the Finals are.