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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
1:41 AM ET, 5/16/06

Outclassed? Don't tell the Cavs

Posted by Chris Mannix
David isn't supposed to beat Goliath. Not this time, not in this setting.

Cleveland isn't supposed to be in this series. They're not supposed to be in it and they're not supposed to care. Think about it: the Cavaliers have had a remarkable run. They won 50 games with a rookie coach, a mediocre supporting cast (minus the key summer acquisition, Larry Hughes, for 46 games this season) and a superstar that many felt was not quite ready to make the jump into the Jordan/O'Neal/Duncan class. They made the playoffs, exorcizing the demons of last year's collapse. They won their opening round series against the battle-tested Wizards in dramatic fashion, with LeBron James firmly placing himself on the proverbial playoff map.

Against Detroit, they were supposed to be outclassed. The Pistons were the two-time Eastern Conference champs, as stable a group as there was. During the regular season, Detroit set an NBA record for starting the same lineup 73 games in a row, eclipsing the 2002-03 Golden State Warriors' number of 66.

But at some point along the way -- somewhere between Game 2 and Game 3 -- the Cavaliers stopped being impressed. LeBron James continued his impressive all-around play Monday night, nearly notching his third triple double of the playoffs. Detroit, meanwhile, looked nothing like the team that dominated the first two games of the series. It was almost as if the Pistons were trying to outsmart themselves: one of the few effective Pistons was Tayshaun Prince, who was able to post Flip Murray and James in much the same way he did Sixers guard Aaron McKie in the 2003 playoffs. His lazy hook in the lane was an unstoppable weapon that Pistons coach Flip Saunders, in my estimation, should have gone to much more frequently. On the other hand, the Cavaliers, using physical defense and some shrewd shooting, looked more like Detroit, holding the 2004 NBA champions to 33 percent shooting. Cleveland certainly wasn't great: only two starters notched double figures. But as one scout told me Friday night, the Cavs don't have to be that good -- not when James is there to cover up a lot of mistakes.

This series now becomes a best of three with the Pistons holding the valuable home court advantage. But there are warning flags popping up all around the Motor City. Rasheed Wallace -- his Guaransheed coming up short -- was severely hobbled by the ankle injury and will probably be limited when the series resumes on Wednesday (unless Pistons recovery guru Arnie Kander can work some of his magic). Wallace's potential absence effectively nullifies any home court advantage the Pistons might have. Should Wallace be limited or unable to go, the calcified Dale Davis would likely be pressed into action.

I'll put it to you: anyone bold enough to Guaransheed a victory? And let me ask you something else. With Cleveland winning two straight with Larry Hughes out of the starting lineup, should Murray remain there upon Hughes' return?


Posted: 2:19 AM   by shvdschnzz
I have hated the Hughes signing since it happened, as I have not been fond of the Z signing either. Flip is not better or worse thamn Hughes, but different. Not a great defender, not a great shooter. But here is the thing...he's got b*lls. That what the CAVS need to win this series. A big set of marbles. Everyone usually punks out against the Pistons. The last two games, the CAVS have not, and it has showed. Yes, the Pistons haven't shot that well...but part of the reason has been the CAVS D. And they have finally showed some 'sack'. Period. That is what it is gonna take...and I am sorry, Hughes doesn't have sack on the court. I do think he has it off the court though, and I wish him all the best.

And...by the way...AV is the real deal. That charge he took in the late fourth was a GREAT PLAY.

Stick that in your piehole, beantown apologist.
Posted: 2:21 AM   by Anonymous
At first I really don't care who wins this series, but it bugs me that rasheed gives cavs no chance to win and guaranteed a win in gm 4. Now I hope Lebron makes him eat his word of cav having no chance of winning the series. I don't like it when players get too cocky, just play ball.
Posted: 2:27 AM   by Anonymous
This was the time in the past two years that Larry Brown would hold this team together. Let's see if Flip Saunders can do the same..........

Also, the Cavs only won because they're in Cleveland. This'll be over in 6 games.
Posted: 3:41 AM   by Anonymous
This is a good wake up call to the Pistons. Good enough to make them angry... too angry that it will motivate them to win this series, the Eastern Finals, and ultimatley the Larry O' Brien trophy. A Back-to-Earth call that will remind them they are not a superstar team but thrived primarily because of hardwork and of NOT UNDERESTIMATING COMPETITION (killer instinct).
Posted: 3:44 AM   by kasper
Winning basketball takes more than having a "big sack". Not sure what this guy does with his spare time, but it probably entails eating raw meat, grabbing his b*lls and tellling himself that he is a man. Solid D, good shooting, and teamwork wins games. I am pretty sure there are lots of guys with a 'sack' that have never gone to the big show.
Posted: 5:18 AM   by Anonymous
I wonder if Larry Hughes has noticed how well the Cavs are playing without him? I also have to wonder how much the death of his brother has motivated the Cavs? Once again Z doesnt provide anything for the Cavs. If this continues, the Cavs have to really think hard why these two are sucking up salary cap.
Posted: 5:50 AM   by Anonymous
Over in 6? Is that you posting Rasheed? Didn't you learn your lesson?
Posted: 7:22 AM   by Anonymous
The only reason the first game was a blowout was because the Cavs only had 1 day to prepare after a hard emotional series in Round 1. Other than that, they have been every bit as good as the Pistons. The shine is off the Pistons, and there's a dozen guys in Cleveland who are not intimidated by the rhetoric surrounding and coming from Detroit.
As far as talent and execution go, the Cavs can stick with the Pistons. What I worry about is the decision-making of the Cavs, especially James. He was ice-cold in the second half, yet he was shooting late to try to win it, with time left on the shot clock. They should have run the rotation, drove and kicked it to Marshall and let him pop a three, which he has been very efficient at this series.
If Detroit wins this series, it's because they finally got away from worrying about who they are and started focusing on the court. If Cleveland wins, it's because they took a team with lesser talent and, through sheer will, beat down an admittedly more skilled team with execution and not words.
Posted: 7:44 AM   by Anonymous
I loved last weeks comments about the Pistons in four.Oh my, looks like 6 still might not be enough.
These Cavs are learning by the game. Keeping the Pistons to under 80.Sounds like defense to me.In game two they only lost by six.
LBJ and crew will be something next season.scoreboard.Out.
Posted: 7:58 AM   by Anonymous
Over in 6? Maybe. I don't think Detroit wants this to go to a game 7. All the pressure would be (and is now) on them. I'm not sure LeBron is who I would want to be playing if one game determined my season. That kid seems to thrive off pressure and delivers beyond what anyone expects in critical situations. I never thought they'd take both at home. They went from being starstruck to believing they have a chance. And Rasheed's big mouth is just fuel to the fire...
Posted: 8:01 AM   by Anonymous
Reason tells me that Pistons will win this in 6 games because inevitably the better team wins. However, I believe the Cavs can push the Pistons to 7 games mainly because as you said LeBron James. I thought this series would be hum-drum but it's shaping up to be a classic.

Also, I don't Larry Hughes should come back into the starting line up. He wasn't doing much when he was there anyway.
Posted: 12:32 PM   by Anonymous
That would make it a Wade vs Lebron eastern finals. Can you imagine what the rating will be like. It would be like Jordan vs Magic all over again.
Everybody talks about "experience" and how Cleveland doesn't have a chance because Mike Brown is a "rookie" head coach. Well Jon Gruden was a "rookie" head coach, and Tampa Bay won the super bowl that same year. The Pistons need Larry Brown, because that's the guy with all the "experience". Flip Saunders is an excellent coach, but he doesn't have the "experience" to lead the pistons. Mike Brown is outcoaching him right now, this series will only go 6 games, cavaliers need to close it out at the Q, it's only fitting for all Cavs fans to share that "experience" together.
Posted: 12:34 PM   by R.S.
I did't care about either team, but now I do. I hate when players "guarantee" wins. It is so pompous and arrogant. Detroit now has a sour taste in my mouth and I'd much rather see a more mature and professional team win the series. What Rasheed said is what is exactly wrong with professional sports today. Just play and shut up!
Posted: 12:43 PM   by Ray Cooney
Larry Hughes should come off the bench. The Cavs can't afford to mess with a formula that has been working.

I am a huge Cleveland fan, but as several have said, Detroit remains the favorite. Still, in a best 2-out-of-3 situation, I'll take my chances with LeBron James!
Posted: 12:53 PM   by Anonymous
what clown posted it's over in 6? Isn't game 6 in Cleveland? Didn't you say they won cuz they were in Cleveland? what a dweeb
Posted: 12:57 PM   by james@4h.com
As a tall white guy, it pains me to watch Z suck so badly. I could school him, seriously. I make plenty of $ in my chosen profession, otherwise I seriously think he would be my inspiration for becoming an NBA player. Cavs need to get a young guy with a center's body and let him grow with the team. I like Flip, Anderson, Drew, Damon, etc. Hughes is good but he always has a look on his face like he doesn't care, like it's just a game (which is true) and he's just collecting a paycheck. Sometimes Donyell seems this way too, then he surprises me.
Posted: 1:48 PM   by Anonymous
I think Hughes should go back to the starting lineup and Coach Brown should go back to replacing Snow and Gooden at the 6:00 mark with Jones and Marshall. This worked the entire season, but once Hughes came back, Jones got replaced by Murray. Murray and Hughes play the same game, where Jones changes the pace, and messes with the defensive matchups. I like Hughes (mostly based on his play in Washington last year) and I like Murray, but if the Cavs want to win they need to have Jones on the floor some of the time to keep Detroit honest outside.
Also for those complaining about Z, if we do win and face Miami, it would be nice to have Z go against Shaq instead of Andy and Alan Henderson.
Posted: 2:05 PM   by Anonymous
With LeBron leading the way, the Cavs can do anything. He sets up Donyell and Damon and Flip to hit their threes, he scores at will when he is aggressive and drives to the hoop, and now that LeBron realizes there is not a major rebounder on the team, he rebounds. Also Anderson's energy and emotion really lifts the team's spirits. Cavs have a real chance at winning the series.
Posted: 2:26 PM   by Dr. Jay
I'm impressed. As a 36 year Cavs fan (I entered the contest to name the team) I have to admit I thought they were done. I'm glad I was wrong. And I'm glad they stuck to "skunk-head" Rasheed, the next goon in the long line of Pistons' criminals (Lambeer, Mahorn, Rodman...).
Posted: 2:42 PM   by Anonymous
Its nice to finally see some analyists talking good about the Cavs, and giving them the respect they deserve. Its okay Rasheed to admit that you have stunk the last two games and have been showed up by a youthful team. I wouldnt be surprised if Cavs win in 6, and potentially make a run for the 'ship. GO CAVS!
Cleveland has got Momentum, they have Detroit's strategy figured out, and they have one thing the Pistons dont have and cant have. #23 will be the deciding card in this poker-game. Detroit is a superb bluffing team, they demoralize teams by coming on huge in the first couple games and count on the intimidation factor to scare opponents into compliance.

But the Cavs didnt buy into it. They fought back. They came to cleveland and drew a line in the sand and dared the Pistons to step across it. Now they're dead even, and they've got the momentum. Even going into detroit, For these Cavs, they've got a lot more to fight for than the Pistons do - and That, in the end, will prove to be their victory.

These boys are gonna shock the world, and we will all be Witnesses. Cleveland in Six, Shutting up Mr.Guaransheed and that guy on Sports Center, and it's on to the finals.
Posted: 12:34 AM   by Anonymous
I'm rather surprised that Cavaliers can force 2 games apiece with the monstrous Pistons.

In both Cavalier wins, LeBron James had a triple-double and flirted around it in the latter. No doubt, LBJ is going to be one of the best players in the league in years to come. But for a person in his age to come up big against a 73-streak same lineup Piston team which has two post monster-Wallaces, swingmen-defender Prince and the scoring punch of Rip and Billups, it is simply amazing. Yes, AMAZING!!

To me, it doesn't matter who wins this series. Just that it will be a big upset to the Pistons if they lose. But Cavs future is very bright as long as they make LBJ their franchise player.

The team around LBJ is doing great too, on and off the court. So, I believe they are going to come together for the next season.

Watch out everyone. Cavs are a team to beat next season!
Posted: 3:11 AM   by Anonymous
"King James" has to get darn near a triple double just to have a close game with the pistons. Can he do it three two more times I doubt it.
"Experience" and "Witness". How sweet the sound of those 2 words are to everyone that lives in Northeast Ohio. I told everyone that the Cavs are going to close this one out in 6. Are there any more doubters? Holla at me...lol
Posted: 10:58 PM   by Anonymous
All year I've been thinking that the Pistons were an upset waiting to happen. I always felt that they were buying into the hype that they were the uncrowned champions of this season and that every other team would recognize their brilliance and just roll over for them. Sure, they won a bunch of games in the beginning of the season to put everyone on notice, but like San Antonio, you have to look at the games they lost and who they lost them to. In spite of their many wins, they often lost to teams that they shouldn't lose to...ever. This represents to me a serious flaw in their thinking and the result is being shown to every NBA fan who cares to watch. I have honestly felt all year that in spite of the hype...San Antonio and Detroit would both be packing their bags early this year. Like Chuck D and Flavor Flav used to say, "Yeeeah Boy...Don't...don't...don't...don't believe they hype".
Posted: 4:09 PM   by Anonymous
Number 23 is still alive! Thank God LBJ did not embarass the owner of the famous number of the NBA. It's like watching Jordan again, tailing until they came to the surface. I love this game!
Posted: 9:26 AM   by Anonymous
I believe Hughes should be on hold until The Cavs get through the Pistons on Game 6. This is like adding Amare Stoudamire during a bullish run of the Suns only for the Suns to flounder. I truly hope it's gone be the Heat vs the Cavs. This will be the battle of the 2 young phenoms. You can't ask for a better show. - A.C.E.
Posted: 4:00 PM   by Anonymous
Just one more win. Then let's hear the national media experts tell us Cleveland Fans that Maimi wins in 5 games.
IF the CAVS win tognight(the IF is because they still have to play the game), I have a funny feeling that they will be playing in the NBA Finals.
Can they win it all? Not sure but what a story it will make if they can get that far. And what a wonderful present it will be to the City of Cleveland and all the die hard fans. GO CAVS - Win one for the National Media Experts who had you loosing without playing the game.