OVERVIEW: We've seen this show before, haven't we? About 20 years ago, another rising superstar vanquished a fading Pistons empire en route to dominating the league for the next decade. LeBron James, of course, has six titles to win -- and free agency to navigate -- before he can match the man whose number he adopted. But he can emulate Michael Jordan in the immediate future by swinging the last wrecking ball at a Pistons team president Joe Dumars already started dismantling in November, when he sent point guard and team leader Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson and his expiring contract. Given the passing fortunes of both teams, and the warm division rivalry they already share, this could be a testy series.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. The likely regular-season MVP. James already proved he could beat a much stronger Detroit team by himself, and that was two years ago. He's even better now and has more backup, too, thanks to the addition of All-Star guard Mo Williams.
2. Pistons pride. The core of a team that has advanced to six straight conference finals may be there, but not the heart. Detroit has been playing as if it is waiting for the other shoe to drop ever since Billups was shipped to the Rockies. Can a team that lost 12 of 18 to close the regular season rise up to make this a competitive series?
3. Cavs defense vs. Pistons offense. Detroit averaged only 81.8 points in four meetings against Cleveland, which led the NBA in points allowed and finished second in field-goal-percentage defense. The Pistons weren't much better against the rest of the league: They ranked 28th in scoring and three-pointers made and 21st in offensive efficiency. It will be a grind for them in this series.
UNDER THE RADAR: Keep an eye on LeBron's minutes. Cavs coach Mike Brown has done a commendable job in limiting James to a career-low 37.7 minutes this season. With the playoffs here, however, the seat belt is off. That means a player who, according to 82games.com, makes the Cavs 21.1 points better than the opposition when he is on the floor will be operating his magic an additional 6.8 minutes a game, if his average playing time from his previous three playoff appearances is any guide. That should take care of almost any close calls in Round 1.
PREDICTION:Cavs in 5. This series will go as long as Cleveland allows; when you win 66 games and outscore opponents by an average of 8.9 points, it's like that.
MORE SERIES BREAKDOWNS
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