By Chris Molicki
Cleveland begins it’s quest for a championship yet again, and they find themselves in a similar position: the favorites to get out of the East, but an underdog to whoever they meet in the Finals. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll run through the conference without any hiccups. It’s never that simple. And that starts with a Pistons team that just might find a way to make life difficult.
When the Cavaliers have the ball: You know the drill, everything runs through LeBron. But Cleveland has tried to shift more toward small ball, with Tristan Thompson thrust into the starting lineup. Thompson will be all over the glass and be surrounded by four capable shooters. However, in order to unlock their ultimate potential, the Cavs may need to experiment with Kevin Love at center. Love should be able to contribute well enough both on the boards and from deep, but Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris could give him some problems defensively. Stan Van Gundy has the bodies (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson are two others) to throw a lot of different looks at Love and LeBron, which could lead to some struggles. But at the end of the day, I expect the chessmaster to figure everything out and keep this dynamic offense humming.
When the Pistons have the ball: The Cavs are all about rebounding, so it’s going to be a tall task for Andre Drummond to control the glass. If anyone can do it though, it’d be him, and his rebounding numbers will likely sway the series one way or another. The other big-time player on Detroit, Reggie Jackson, has had a breakout year and became a true stud point guard. Playing against a turnstile in Kyrie Irving, the Pistons’ only hopes may rely on Jackson just going ballistic. As I mentioned earlier, it’ll be interesting to see how Van Gundy deploys his swingmen, and if he can find that perfect lineup to give the Cavs trouble.
Matchup to watch: LeBron vs. everyone. It’s not often you see a No. 8 seed have so many guys they can throw at LeBron. Don’t be surprised if Caldwell-Pope, Johnson, Morris, and Harris all spend time on the King. That’s not to say they’ll be very successful. LeBron still has a major advantage over each of these players. But the variety of looks could cause James to use some of his energy processing the matchups, and take it away from doing other, more important things. It’s also worth noting that things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows in Cleveland. LeBron has had some frustrations this year, and some teams’ only chance to beat him may be to get inside his head. I don’t think it happens in the first round, but it’s something to watch for.
Pick-Cavaliers in 5: This Pistons team is on the right track to be good soon. But this has the feel of a playoff inauguration where Detroit is sacrificed to the King. I expect the size, shooting, and overall talent of Cleveland to dominate this series.