Pistons v. Bulls Preview.
What to look for: Youth versus experience. While Detroit is considered a narrow favorite, Chicago’s 3-1 season series advantage has some thinking that their fresh legs and athleticism will triumph over the battle tested Pistons. The Bulls collected their first playoff series of the post-Jordan era at the expense of the defending champs and are looking for more. The danger of a team with nothing to lose has been made readily apparent, and Chicago owned the season series on the boards, including last month’s 106-88 stampede without center Ben Wallace. This has all the makings of another upset.
Detroit Strengths/Weaknesses: Detroit has replaced the smothering defensive presence of Ben Wallace with the versatility of Chris Webber which has completely opened up the offense. His ability to stretch the defense with consistent perimeter shooting coupled with the easy baskets he can create with his interior passing are the perfect fit for their frontcourt. Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace mirror those attributes, in addition to a superior mobility that can finish off the fast break. Richard Hamilton’s sharpshooting along with Chauncey Billups leadership and decision making round out the Lig’s Fav Five. Every starter on this team is capable of scoring twenty points-on the same night. Despite only 96 PPG, Detroit has all the offensive synergy of a Phoenix or Golden State without sacrificing any defensive discipline. There’s a reason it’s called “Deeeeettttrrrroooooooit Bassssskettballlllll!”, They’re long, loud, in your face and it’s gonna be that way for 48 minutes. The Pistons led the league in block differential (+2.21) and were sixth in steals (+0.75). They communicate well, always make the proper rotation, and the length of their frontcourt fills the passing lanes and contests shots. The only area where the Pistons disappoint is rebounding. Despite the size and vision of their players, the Central Division Champs leading rebounder was Rasheed Wallace with an underwhelming 7.2 per. It could be their undoing.
Chicago Strengths/Weaknesses: Dey aren’t babies anymore. Deese are grown ass, um…Bulls? Chicago boasts strong interior play, impressive outside shooting, and a dangerous fast break. Da Bulls led da Lig in rebounding (43.67, +2.78 diff), dey were fourth in steals (7.79, +0.30), dey were sixth in blocks (5.42, +0.14 diff), and dey finished second in 3PT% (38.8%). Dey’re not without deir problems dough. Chicago has trouble scoring within da half court and dey go through frequent dry spells. Ben Gordon is da only player who can consistently create his own shot, and dey’re a horrible free throw shooting team (73.4%, 23rd.).
How They Match Up: The 3-1 season series advantage is deceptive. Chauncey (1/6) and Rip (3/29) were missing in Detroit losses, and no Piston starter played more than 30 minutes in their final meeting of the season (4/4). Detroit’s backcourt is superior in size and strength, not to mention experience and it should show. Billups is strong enough to post up any defender, and his defense on Hinrich could disrupt a fragile Bulls offense. Hamilton will be able to get his shots off over Gordon if the screens haven’t already tired him out, and his size advantage should help him on the other end. Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni played exceptionally well against Miami due to mismatches, but whether they can have a repeat performance against Tayshaun Prince remains to be seen. The collective shooting and ball movement of the Pistons frontcourt should keep da Bulls plenty busy when they’re not figuring out how to score themselves. No post player for the Bulls can be relied upon for consistent easy baskets and that will hurt them over the course of this series.
The X Factor(s): The future is now. Chicago is motivated by recent success and don’t know if they’ll ever get this far again, they’re going for broke. Detroit is motivated by past success and with Ben Wallace as a reminder of Chauncey’s impending free agency, they don’t know if they’ll ever get this far again. They’re going for broke. There will be plenty of jumpers, and this series will be decided in the paint as the Bulls look to continue their dominance on the boards and stifle Detroit’s second chances or fast breaks. Chicago’s hunger may drive them to keep things competitive, but as this series progresses their need for a star of Billups magnitude will be apparent. Who are they going to depend upon for scoring during a drought? For a statement bucket? In the fourth quarter?
Series Prediction: Don’t believe the hype. Pistons in six.