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Posted: Friday May 2, 2008 3:17PM; Updated: Friday May 2, 2008 4:16PM
Marty Burns Marty Burns >
INSIDE THE NBA

Magic-Pistons series breakdown

Story Highlights
  • The Pistons are seeking their sixth straight trip to the East finals
  • The Magic will challenge Detroit with a potent inside-outside offense
  • Point guard Jameer Nelson's performance will be crucial to the Magic
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Dwight Howard (left) will try to deny Rasheed Wallace and the Pistons a sixth consecutive trip to the conference finals.
Dwight Howard (left) will try to deny Rasheed Wallace and the Pistons a sixth consecutive trip to the conference finals.
Getty Images (2)

No. 3 Magic vs. No. 2 Pistons

Season Series: Tied 2-2

• Nov. 2 -- Pistons 116, Magic 92: Even without Richard Hamilton, the Pistons cruised at Orlando behind Chauncey Billups (18 points, seven assists) and a balanced attack. Rashard Lewis scored 21 points to lead the Magic.

• Jan. 21 -- Magic 102, Pistons 100: Lewis had 16 points, including the game-winning jumper at the horn, to lift host Orlando. Lewis' heroics came after Billups had nailed a 32-foot three-pointer with 3.6 seconds left to tie the game at 100-100.

• Jan. 25 -- Pistons 101, Magic 93: Hamilton scored 32 points and the host Pistons rode a 49-31 edge on the boards to avenge that last-second defeat of four days before. Hedo Turkoglu had 23 points to pace the Magic.

• Feb. 19 -- Magic 103, Pistons 85: The Magic sank 13-of-20 from three-point range to win at Detroit and snap the Pistons' 10-game winning streak. Dwight Howard (four blocks) keyed a stifling defensive effort for Orlando.

The Skinny: It's a rematch of last year's first-round playoff series, which the Pistons won in a sweep. But Detroit, which is seeking a sixth straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals, faces a much-improved Orlando squad this time around. The addition of Lewis, along with the continued development of Howard and the emergence of Turkoglu, has the Magic in the second round for the first time since the Shaq-and-Penny days of the mid-1990s.

Orlando boasts one of the NBA's best offenses, ranking sixth in scoring (104.5) and fifth in field-goal percentage (47.4) during the regular season. With Howard in the middle and three-point shooters in Lewis, Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson, the Magic are proficient at spreading the floor and making opponents pick their poison. Their defense is more than solid, with long bodies in Howard, Lewis and Turkoglu to clog up the lane.

The Pistons will counter Orlando's firepower with a team defense that ranked first in points allowed (90.1) and third in field-goal percentage (43.7). Detroit's core of Billups, Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace is long, athletic and knows how to play together. At the offensive end, the Pistons do a great job taking care of the ball and spreading it around -- though they are prone to long dry spells.

One interesting aspect of this series will be the chess match between Pistons coach Flip Saunders and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. Will Detroit double-team Howard in the post and leave those Magic shooters open? Will Saunders assign one of his big men, McDyess or Wallace, to chase Lewis out beyond the three-point line? At the other end, will Van Gundy leave Howard to chase Wallace, or keep him close to the basket and take his chances with Lewis on the bigger, stronger 'Sheed? It should be fun to watch.

Key Matchup: 'Sheed vs. Superman

These two All-Star centers might not match up head-to-head all the time, but they will both be critical to their teams. The 6-foot-11 Howard emerged as a true superstar this season, leading the NBA in rebounds (14.2) and ranking near the top in blocks (2.1) while adding 20.7 points. He almost single-handedly beat the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, recording three 20/20 games and another in which he had eight blocks. Wallace's stats are modest by comparison (12.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) but his impact on his team is nearly as big. The 13-year veteran is an excellent defender in the post, and his ability to step out and hit the three-pointer (35.6 percent this season) makes him a matchup nightmare.

X-Factor for Magic: Jameer Nelson

The fourth-year point guard has been maligned for his inconsistency, but he is a tough competitor who can make big shots. He silenced the skeptics against the Raptors in the last series (17.2 points, 4.8 assists), and seems to enjoy the big stage. He will need to be at his best against Billups, one of the best two-way point guards in the game, for the Magic to have a chance.

X-Factor for Pistons: The Zoo Crew

Led by Jason Maxiell (who might start in place of McDyess), Jarvis Hayes and Rodney Stuckey, the Pistons' reserves combined to average 29.7 points this season, the most since Detroit's 2004 title team. Matched up against a thin Magic reserve corps, the Zoo Crew (so dubbed for the way they attack like hungry animals) must live up to its nickname here.

The Pick: It's tempting to go with the Magic, who have the ascendant Howard and a better offense. But the Pistons have the better backcourt, the better team defense and home-court advantage.
Detroit in seven.

 
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