PF: Tim Duncan, Spurs vs. Rasheed Wallace, Pistons
Because Wallace has the length to contest shots, Duncan will have to attack the basket more. How the Pistons guard Duncan is going to be central to their strategy. Their defenders are so versatile that they can all give him different looks on the double team, then cover for each other when he kicks the ball out. If a teammate gets caught in a mismatch, Detroit is excellent at reading it, rotating and neutralizing the advantage.... When the Pistons have the ball in transition, Duncan has to pick up Wallace early because Rasheed is a very good trailer on the break. His three-point range means that Duncan can't sink back and protect the rim.... It's a great matchup because they're both tall, athletic and very skilled. But Duncan is far more likely to play hard every minute than Rasheed, and Wallace won't be able to rattle Duncan with verbal shots.
SF: Bruce Bowen, Spurs vs. Tayshaun Prince, Pistons
Bowen does the same things to players on the perimeter that you ask your big men to do against Shaq in the paint: He gets under their feet and forces them to think more about him than about the game. I've witnessed a couple of plays--and heard of many more--on which Bowen has gotten underneath someone and either injured him or put him at risk of injury. He thrives on having a dirty reputation; he knows that if he's getting in your head, then he's affecting you.... But Bowen will have trouble getting in Prince's head. Tayshaun has length, skills and the right demeanor to deal with this matchup. He's not out there pounding his chest; he just plays.... Since Bowen's always off his feet, Prince will use the shot fake to dribble by him, which will draw the next defender and open up a passing lane. That's Detroit's style: penetrate and kick, move the ball, space the floor.
C: Nazr Mohammed, Spurs vs. Ben Wallace, Pistons
Wallace's reputation obviously exceeds Mohammed's, but Nazr has played well in a complementary role. This isn't going to be that much of a one-on-one matchup anyway; when Wallace isn't guarding Duncan, his main job is going to be to help out on him.... The good thing about this matchup for Detroit is that it frees Wallace to rebound without having to block out against Duncan. Even though hitting the offensive glass is Mohammed's strong suit, the Pistons thrive on holding opponents to one shot per possession.
SG: Manu Ginobili, Spurs vs. Richard Hamilton, Pistons
Larry Brown's system has made a star out of Hamilton. Detroit is very good at setting screens--especially along the baseline--that allow Hamilton to create space for his midrange jump shots. He'll try to wear out Ginobili by running him around the half-court, but I don't think that's going to succeed; both players are very similar in their athleticism and the pace at which they prefer to play.... Ginobili amazes me at the defensive end by taking apparent risks that turn out to be sound plays like stripping the ball on defensive rebounds by coming around on the blind side. He changes the game with those plays.... What makes Ginobili special is the way he aggressively puts the ball on the floor, especially with that right-to-left crossover dribble he uses against trapping defenses. I see Hamilton being able to limit Ginobili's options by forcing him toward help, but Detroit's team defense has to be very sound to prevent him from splitting the double teams. Plus Ginobili is longer than people give him credit for. He really stretches out and can maintain great control of the ball even when he's fully extended. He's not just jumping up, he's jumping out toward the basket and he's still able to control his shot.
PG: Tony Parker, Spurs vs. Chauncey Billups, Pistons
Parker will try to beat the Pistons downcourt, but Detroit's forte is transition defense. If you see Parker score on the break, you'll probably see Brown take a timeout immediately.... Parker is a probing point guard--he pushes the ball to the baseline, brings it back out on the dribble and then runs the offense. He's less likely to force up a bad shot than he used to be, but it's still a problem.... Billups will try to slow down Parker with his typically physical style, knowing that if Parker gets by him there's always a shot blocker or two to protect the rim. You might see Billups post Parker up, and I'd expect Detroit to run a lot of pick-and-roll, because its bigs can get a physical shot in on Parker that way.
Detroit will probably take Elden Campbell out of the rotation up front and go with the Wallaces and Antonio McDyess, with all of them getting a crack at Duncan. I've been really impressed by McDyess's offensive touch, especially from 10 to 12 feet.... The Pistons will also try to scramble the game with Lindsey Hunter and Carlos Arroyo. Hunter is a terrific defender with long arms and some quickness left at 34. Arroyo is lacking as an on-the-ball defender, but he's more of a playmaking point guard than Billups .... Beno Udrih and Brent Barry give San Antonio a lot of backcourt versatility. Both can shoot the three and run the offense. Udrih's a rookie, but he played professionally in Europe for seven years before coming over here. When he's running the show, the Spurs become more of a half-court execution team. He looks more to pitch the ball ahead and spot up on the perimeter.... Robert Horry has been impressive in these playoffs, especially the way he's been able to get off the floor and challenge shots. But I don't know how much longer he can keep his energy that high.
The Pistons will win a tight series. They have experience from winning the championship last year, they're more versatile, and they're more likely to force the opposition to play their way. The Spurs have the better player in Duncan, but Detroit is the stronger team.