76ers set for playoffs

April 18, 2008 3:28:45 PM PDT
Andre Iguodala can explain to his Philadelphia 76ers teammates how all the little plays make the difference in winning a playoff series. Iguodala recalled how the extra hustle, like diving for loose balls, or even taking a charge can win a postseason game. A series is won not by individuals taking over the game and trying to win it alone, but by five players working unselfishly as a unit. The games mean more, intensity is raised, every possession counts.

Iguodala knows all this because he is a true 76ers playoff veteran.

All of five games.

Three years ago.

While the veteran Pistons couldn't be blamed for treating this series as a warmup toward more loftier goals, like another trip to the Eastern Conference finals, the Sixers have a roster stacked of wide-eyed kids who have never played in a game that means as much as Sunday's Game 1.

"We can't make up for the experience," 76ers coach Maurice Cheeks said on Friday.

Their playoff series against Detroit hasn't even started yet and already the 76ers are getting crushed.

The Pistons have 10 players on their roster with a combined 678 games of postseason experience. The Pistons won the NBA title in 2004 and returned to the Finals the next year, with a five-game first-round win over Iguodala and the Sixers nothing more than a speed bump.

Rasheed Wallace (132) and Lindsey Hunter (132) lead the way, and Chauncey Billups is at 102. Richard Hamilton (99) and Tayshaun Prince (97) will all crack triple digits in this series.

Guard Kevin Ollie is Philadelphia's most playoff-tested player with 38 games, only two fewer than he played this season so he likely won't be much of a factor.

The Sixers only have seven players with previous playoff experience for a combined 95 games. Iguodala, Wilile Green and Samuel Dalembert have only those five games against the Pistons in 2005; Andre Miller played in 15 games with Denver (never past the first round); Reggie Evans played in 16 playoff games; and Calvin Booth 11.

Booth, Miller and Ollie are the only players 28 or older.

Lou Williams, Rodney Carney, Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith are among Philadelphia's key rotation players who never played a postseason game. Even fourth-year vet Iguodala feels a bit like a playoff rookie again.

"It feels new again, just because we have a different team and I have a different role," Iguodala said.

No wonder the Pistons are favored.

"No one probably should think we should win it," Cheeks said. "We have to believe we can win it."

The 76ers were optimistic Friday in their first practice since the regular season ended that they could beat the Pistons, or least give them a serious scare. Their confidence is bolstered by two wins in their last two games against Detroit that tied the season series at 2-2.

The 76ers won in Detroit 83-82 on March 12 and again in Philadelphia 101-94 on April 9. That victory put the Sixers two games over .500, yet they haven't won again. The enthusiasm of a torrid 11-4 March that made them one of the NBA's biggest surprises has faded with a four-game losing streak entering the postseason.

"It matters because it messes with your psyche," Miller said. "We didn't play that well toward the end of the season and we made it hard on ourselves."

Billups said Philadelphia showed what it was capable of over the last 30 games of the season.

"They're capable of beating us," Billups said. "We have to play every game with a sense of urgency."

That's what coach Flip Saunders wants to hear from the Pistons, who have developed a reputation for only playing up to its potential when they're down in a game or doubted in a series.

"In the four games we played them, I don't think we had a lot of energy," Saunders said. "We have to play with our best effort in the playoffs."

The Sixers plan to make up for the experience gap by running, the strategy that took them from 18-30 on Feb. 4 all the way to 40-38 on April 9.

The up-tempo Sixers thrived in transition this year, running all over the court for easy baskets. Cheeks wants the Pistons to try and keep pace with them, rather than have the 76ers play at Detroit's methodical halfcourt pace in a game with the score in the 80s.

"We've got to try and run as much as we can," Cheeks said. "I know it's the playoffs, they say you can't run as much, it's usually halfcourt basketball, but our chance of winning this series is still getting out and running."


AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Auburn Hills, Mich., contributed to this report.