The road here has been a bumpy one, but the Cleveland Cavaliers couldn't ask to be in a better position entering the playoffs. They are the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed and will have home court advantage until the Finals. They're healthy, which wasn't the case last season.
Most importantly, LeBron James once again looks like the Hall of Famer who was the top player in the league for more than half a decade. LeBron is averaging 28.4 points, eight rebounds and 8.5 assists over his last 10 games, shooting 63 percent from the field and 52 percent from deep. When he plays like that, his teams are nearly impossible to beat.
The Detroit Pistons' solid season went to another level after they fleeced the Orlando Magic to get Tobias Harris at the trade deadline. Harris, who's averaged 16.6 points and shot 38 percent from behind the three-point line in 27 games, has proven to be the perfect fit for the Pistons. With him on the floor, the Pistons are able to surround the dangerous Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll with a group of athletic shooters, who can also attack off the dribble.
The future is bright in Detroit. Making the playoffs for the first time in seven years makes this season a successful one and Stan Van Gundy seemingly has a core he can feel comfortable building around. That said, it's going to take a minor miracle for the Pistons to make this a competitive series, let alone pull off the upset.
- Cavaliers (57-25, expected record 57-25) vs. Pistons (44-38, expected record 43-39)
- Cavaliers offensive efficiency: 108.1 (fourth) | Pistons offensive efficiency: 103.3 (T14th)
- Cavaliers defensive efficiency: 102.3 (10th) | Pistons defensive efficiency: 103.4 (15th)
- Season series: 3-1 Pistons
Key matchup: Andre Drummond offensive rebounds vs. Cleveland's big men
The Pistons' greatest strength this year has been their ability to terrorize opponents on the offensive glass. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder rebounded a higher percentage of their misses and averaged more second-chance points per game, per NBA.com. That's what happens when you have a beastly center like Drummond roaming the paint.
The issue for Detroit is that the Cavaliers have been one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league. For one, they play at a slow pace and don't place a priority on leaking out for fast breaks, though they played a little faster after firing David Blatt and promoting Tyronn Lue. They also have plus size and rebounders all across their roster -- James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are three of the best rebounders for their positions, while Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye are more than capable of holding their own on the glass.
The Pistons' defense isn't good enough to slow down the Cavaliers' explosive offense and their offense isn't prolific or consistent enough to take advantage of Cleveland's occasional lapses. Their one to path victory centers around Drummond pulverizing the Cavaliers on the offensive glass. If Cleveland can keep him away from basket, then this series could end without the Pistons netting a single win.
X factor: three-point shooting
When most think of the Cavaliers' offense, they think of LeBron streaking down the lane or Kyrie Irving unleashing a vicious crossover on some unsuspecting defender. But a major component of Cleveland's attack is spot-up jumpers from guys like Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Love and Frye. That's what happens when you have two stars who can force opposing defenders to collapse.
Only two teams launched more three-pointers this season than the Cavaliers, and a major chunk of those attempts came from the short corners.
The Pistons, on the other hand, have excelled at limiting three-point attempts, especially from the corners. Van Gundy knows the math and knows that forcing opponents off that line and into the mid-range is the way to go. The question is: can Detroit execute this game plan against the dynamic Cavaliers?
SCHEDULE (all times Eastern)
GAME 1 - Pistons at Cavaliers, Sun., April 17, 3 p.m., ABC
GAME 2 - Pistons at Cavaliers, Wed., April 20, 8 p.m., TNT
GAME 3 - Cavaliers at Pistons, Fri., April 22, 7 p.m., ESPN
GAME 4 - Cavaliers at Pistons, Sun., April 24, 8:30 p.m., TNT
GAME 5 (if necessary) - Pistons at Cavaliers, Tues., April 26, TBD, TBD
GAME 6 (if necessary) - Cavaliers at Pistons, Thurs., April 28, TBD, TBD
GAME 7 (if necessary) - Pistons at Cavaliers, Saturday April 30, TBD, TNT