Auburn Hills — Cavs in four. Cavs in five.
Maybe Cavs in six.
That’s what the experts are saying about the Pistons’ first-round playoff series, which tips off Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
The top-seeded Cavaliers are the overwhelming favorites, and given LeBron James’ resume — never having lost a first-round playoff series in his career and five straight trips to the NBA Finals — there aren’t many who think differently.
Except the Pistons.
They know all the history and experience they’re facing in the seven-game series, but they seem undaunted. Rather, they see it as an opportunity to prove themselves and won’t cower before the Cavaliers.
Even with all the dire predictions for their playoff outlook, coach Stan Van Gundy said he’d be deflated if the Pistons didn’t win the series.
“Losing the series would be a disappointment; you’re never happy when you lose,” Van Gundy said following Saturday’s practice. “You go into these things to win, so anything short of winning the series would be a disappointment to me.”
To some degree, it’s what a coach has to say when his team’s the underdog. But the bigger picture is that it’s the bravado that he wants his team to exude, even in facing the Cavs, who are healthier this season and favored to get back to the NBA Finals.
Point guard Reggie Jackson notably said after the Pistons learned they’d be facing the Cavs that he wanted the Pistons to get the best team possible. If they were going to be in the playoffs, why not start with the Cavaliers (57-25) instead of the No. 2 seed Raptors?
“David may not have wanted to fight Goliath but I don’t want to fight Goliath’s homeboy or little brother — I want to go and fight Goliath,” Jackson said earlier this week.
It’s not a case of poking the sleeping bear. It was more about accepting the challenge of making the playoffs. Although the Raptors might have been an easier opponent, just standing up to the challenge of facing the experience-laden Cavaliers is something the Pistons can benefit from and use toward the future.
With the Pistons’ lack of experience in the playoffs, it’s a good attitude to have, wanting to beat the best in order to be the best.
“I understood exactly what he was saying with that quote,” Van Gundy said of Jackson. “We’re there now and we might as well play the best right off the bat. This is a formidable team and a great challenge that our team should be excited about — and they are.”
The Pistons haven’t been on the national radar in seven years — the last time they made the playoffs. So even taking a game from the Cavaliers would be a step in the right direction.
Forward Marcus Morris, who will have the primary assignment in guarding James, has a healthy respect for James but also understands how that will help improve his defensive game.
“We’re all prepared to play in the playoffs. You have to be the ultimate locked in and that’s what takes the intensity up,” Morris said. “Games get tighter and possessions get more crucial. The intensity has to be higher but mentally we have to be locked in more too.”
Morris said he’s worked harder in film study watching James and trying to figure out ways that he can try to contain him. Like many others in the league, there is no sure answer, but he knows the task gets harder in the playoffs.
“(James) is the best player in the world and you’re definitely going to need help,” Morris said. “During the season, I don’t even watch that because it’s not even relevant. I’ve watched him in the regular season and the playoffs and he’s not even on the same level.”
The Pistons will need to take their game to another level.
Or it just might just be Cavs in four.
Pistons at Cavaliers
What: Game 1 of Eastern Conference playoff series
Tipoff: Sunday, 3 p.m., Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Outlook: The Pistons won earlier this season in Cleveland and will fix their focus on LeBron James (25.3 points, 6.8 assists), who never has lost a first-round series in his career.