Pistons beat writer Rod Beard and sports columnist John Niyo discuss the Pistons and their first-round opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving (19.6 points, 4.7 assists) will be difficult to guard one-on-one, and J.R. Smith (12.4 points) will keep the defense honest with his 40 percent 3-point shooting. They’re a potent combo and allow LeBron James and Kevin Love room to roam.
Pistons: Reggie Jackson (18.8 points, 6.2 assists) is developing into a prime-time performer — the first and fourth quarters. His outside shooting has been an asset, and the pick-and-roll is the heart of the offense. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.5 points) likely will have his hands full guarding Irving, but any offense he provides will be a plus.
Cavaliers: LeBron James (25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists) and Kevin Love form one of the best forward tandems in the league, with the ability to score from beyond the arc or in the paint. Love has averaged 24 points in the three games against the Pistons — highest against any team — and shot 50 percent on 3-pointers. James traditionally has had success against the Pistons.
Pistons: Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris have been unsung heroes for the Pistons. Morris (14.1 points) and Harris (16.6 points) have complemented each other and provided better wing scoring options. They’ll have the biggest challenge defensively trying to diffuse James and Love.
Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson (7.9 points, 9.1 rebounds) replaced Timofey Mozgov as the starter and brings more athleticism and chemistry. He’s still trying to live up to his $82 million deal, and coach Tyronn Lue has given him a bigger role in the playoffs.
Pistons: Andre Drummond (16.3 points) leads the league in rebounding (14.8) and double-doubles (66). And when he’s playing with high energy, he’s among the top centers in the league. He’s had ups and downs, but this is the opportunity for him to prove he’s worth the max deal he's seeking this offseason.
Cavaliers: They mainly will look to Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova, especially if Mo Williams (8.2 points) is limited by his knee problems. Channing Frye (7.3 points) and Mozgov (6.1 points) will add length, and veteran Richard Jefferson still can make plays. Iman Shumpert could be limited by injury.
Pistons: Rookie Stanley Johnson (8.1 points) hasn’t been the same since a shoulder injury kept him out seven games, but Aron Baynes has been a solid backup. Anthony Tolliver provides a 3-point threat, and Reggie Bullock and Darrun Hilliard have been solid.
Cavaliers: Tyronn Lue took over for David Blatt after a 30-11 start and has guided the Cavaliers to a 27-13 second half. He was brought on for his rapport with the players, but the postseason will be a litmus test to see if he’s the long-term answer. The constant drama hasn’t deterred him.
Pistons: Stan Van Gundy has seven years of experience, going 48-39. Most notably, he guided the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, led by Dwight Howard. He’s pushed the young Pistons, providing valuable experience for next year — and beyond.
The Cavaliers have more playoff experience, which likely will be the difference. Top seeds don’t lose to No. 8 seeds very often, and the Pistons will have to play their best and most consistent basketball to extend the series to six or seven games — much less consider an upset. LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have the veteran moxie to drag Cleveland through the series.
Edge: Cavaliers in 5