PISTONS v HEAT
SEASON SERIES: Pistons 3-1. Detroit won the first two game by double digits.
STORYLINES: This is a rematch of last year's ECF. Miami went thru the offseason and this season with the mindset [and the talk] that if Wade and Shaq had been healthy in last year's series, they would've beaten the Pistons. Both are healthy now. Also, the coaching lines have changed. Last year, the Pistons had the Hall Of Fame coach [Larry Brown] and the Heat had the newbie to this [Stan Van Gundy]. Now, Miami has the Hall of Famer [Pat Riley] and the Pistons have a coach, while experience, has only won two playoff series before this season [Flip Saunders].
KEY FACTOR: Shaq. This is the series where Shaq has to earn his money. The Pistons have a good defensive front line that can limit Shaq's effectiveness. Still, if Shaq wants to, he can dominate them. And therein lies the challenge. If Shaq can bring his A game in this series, the Heat can advance. If not, well, Detroit advances again.
PREDICTION: Heat in 6. This one is hard. The Pistons are the best team...but aren't playing like it right now. They were blown out in a game by the weak Bucks....then let the Cavs extend them to 7 games. Heck, Detroit had the backs to the wall after Game 5. Miami started off rough in the Bulls series with in fighting. But they looked so good in the Nets series. Right now, they have the momentum and they have the hunger. If Shaq can show signs of being a force in this series....Miami advances.
MAVERICKS v SUNS
SEASON SERIES: Tied 2-2. Suns won the first two....Mavs won the 2nd two.
STORYLINES: These two teams met last year....with the Suns advancing. This year, it is the Mavs who are favored. For Mark Cuban, the Mavs owner, some solace could be found be eliminating fomer Maverick Michael Finley last round and then former Maverick Steve Nash in this round. Still, I doubt this series will be as testy as the last few have been for these teams.
KEY FACTOR: Tempo, obviously. The Mavs can run, but not like the Suns. So the Mavericks have to be able to pick their spots and run their offense at other points. Both teams aren't as traditional as teams who usually comprise this round. Neither contain big post precences and both have shooting big men [Dirk and Tim Thomas]. The key will be Jason Terry, who nearly cost the Mavs in the Spurs series with the "Fruit Punch". He must control tempo for the Mavs, do a decent job guarding Nash, and being Dirk's sidekick in scoring.
PREDICTION: Mavericks in 7. I like the Mavs team. I really don't like the Suns team. But, those Suns defy the odds. This is a team with a guard and a bunch of forwards running around and firing up three pointers. This is a team that has throwaways Boris Diaw, Tim Thomas and Raja Bell becoming huge parts of this team. But, the Mavs went up against the defending champs...held a 3-1 series lead...and won a big Game 7 in the Spurs building. That shows me that this Dallas team has cojones like they have never had before. But, remember, the Suns are now 4-0 in elimination games....with three of those wins being blowouts. Still, they won't be able to contain Dirk.