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Stopping Cavaliers will be no easy task for Pistons

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Cleveland — After days of waiting and wondering who they were going to play in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Pistons finally got their answer on Tuesday.

Once any hope of grabbing the No. 7 seed went up in smoke with a loss to the Heat — coupled with the Pacers’ win over the Knicks — the Pistons were locked into the No. 8 spot.

Their reward for ending a six-year postseason drought? The LeBron James-led Cavaliers.

And coach Stan Van Gundy knows it’ll be a Herculean task for the Pistons, with the majority of their players cutting their postseason teeth against the team heavily favored to make it out of the East.

“I think it will be difficult. I mean they’re the No. 1 seed in the East. They’re a team that went to the Finals last year,” Van Gundy said ahead of Wednesday’s regular-season finale. “They got three All-Star caliber guys (James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love), one who’s probably the best player in the world, and the other complimentary guys are very good.

“They’ve got two guys who are very difficult to keep out of the paint with a ton of shooting around them. They’re second in the league in 3s made and first in attempts. Having a lot of shooters on the floor around guys who can get to the rim whenever they want makes them very difficult to guard.”

And recent playoff history doesn’t bode well for the Pistons.

In 2007, the teams met in the Eastern Conference finals and the Pistons grabbed a 2-0 lead in the seven-game series. But the Cavaliers bounced back to win the next four and dashed the Pistons’ hopes of reaching the NBA Finals for the third time in four seasons.

Then in 2009 — the last time the Pistons reached the playoffs — the Cavaliers handed them an early exit with a sweep.

And while it will be James’ familiar face greeting the Pistons’ franchise in the playoffs, it’s one Van Gundy isn’t looking forward to.

“With LeBron James and any of the great players, when you’re preparing you got plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D. You go down and you’re just really throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks,” Van Gundy said. “I say all the time if there’s a way to play those guys that actually worked, if there was a book on those guys, then they wouldn’t be who they are. If there was a way to play them that shut them down, then people would latch on to that and they wouldn’t be the great players that they are.

“It’s like major league hitters. If you’ve got a hole somewhere and people find out about it, you’re not going to be very good. If you’re Miguel Cabrera and you don’t have a hole, good luck. Pitch him the best you can; he’s still going to hit you.”

Yet the Pistons have had success against the Cavaliers this year. Entering Wednesday night’s game, the Pistons held a 2-1 edge in the series, including a 96-88 win in Cleveland on Feb. 22 to end a five-game skid.

“I’ve always said this going into series, looking at the regular season in that year isn’t very instructive,” Van Gundy said. “We played really well in two of them. One of those they didn’t have Kyrie and played really well here when both teams were on a back-to-back. It’s just not enough of a sample size to say, ‘How have you had so much success?’ We’ve only won two out of three. It’s not like we won 20 out of 30.”

But the playoffs are a whole new game and none of the seedings hold any weight, something Van Gundy knows all too well about.

“At the point (the playoffs) start, it doesn’t matter. The odds don’t matter,” he said. “As an assistant in Miami, I was there when one of the eight seeds beat the one; we were a one in Miami and New York beat us (in 1999).”

Slam dunks

The Pistons signed guard Lorenzo Brown for the remainder of the season to add depth at the point guard position after Reggie Jackson was a late scratch for Tuesday’s game with an abdominal strain and also missed Wednesday’s game against the Cavaliers.

“It was a result to make sure, more than anything, for practice time in the next few days,” Van Gundy said of re-signing Brown for the bench. “We think Reggie will be ready to play (for the playoffs) but I don’t know where he’ll be the next couple of days, so to make sure we get another guy for practice.”

Brown, whose second 10-day contract expired on Friday, has yet to play in a game for the Pistons. His deal also includes a team option for the 2016-17 season.

… Once the playoffs start this weekend, it’ll be the first time Van Gundy is going up against a former player he coached in Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, who ended his playing career with the Magic in the 2008-09 season.

“I don’t need to see Ty down there on the sidelines to know I’m old,” Van Gundy said. “Every day there’s something that comes up. I was talking to one of our scouts yesterday and we had a college coach come in and run practice that I had worked with and that’s what he was saying. Now guys you’ve coached are in their 40s. That’s where we are.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

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