Pistons set to meet young 76ers

April 19, 2008 8:00:59 PM PDT
The Detroit Pistons have a chance to be the first team to reach six straight conference finals since the Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the feat from 1984-89. If Detroit wins its second title during the run, it likely will be remembered as one of the dominant teams in the decade following Michael Jordan's retirement alongside the current San Antonio Spurs and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers.

But if the Pistons fall short for a fourth straight year, misery will loom over them because they know what it's like to win it all.

"Bad, bad summers," said Chauncey Billups, describing the post-title offseasons. "It's a horrible feeling. We're trying not to have that feeling this summer."

The second-seeded Pistons begin their quest for a championship against the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers at home on Sunday.

How does Detroit - whose playoff experience trails only San Antonio's - not look past the least-seasoned team in the postseason that finished the regular season 40-42?

"All we have to do is think about last postseason," Billups said. "It shouldn't matter who you're playing. It matters what happened to us."

The Pistons led LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-0 in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals, then insist they overlooked them and were slowed by fatigue.

Detroit was determined to play its reserves extensively this year for the first time since winning the 2004 title to develop younger players and rest its older ones.

Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince - a nucleus entering its fifth postseason together - each played fewer minutes than last season.

Rookies Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo along with 20-year-old Amir Johnson and third-year pro Jason Maxiell added a spark off the bench playing with steady veterans such as Theo Ratliff, Lindsey Hunter and Jarvis Hayes.

"You can't say we played our starters too many minutes or that we're not deep enough," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars told The Associated Press. "As I see it, the excuses have been eliminated.

"As much as our bench has been a big plus for us, our starting five has to play well for us to be successful."

Against the Sixers, that will particularly be true for Billups against Andre Miller and Prince's matchup with Andre Iguodala.

Miller, a point guard acquired by Philadelphia in the Allen Iverson trade, averaged a career-high 17 points along with 6.9 assists this season.

"A lot of people wrote this team off, wrote me off, wrote some of the other players off," Miller said.

Iguodala scored a career-high 20.1 points a game while averaging 5.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and just over two steals during the regular season. The 6-foot-6 small forward might be motivated even more in the postseason because he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.

"He's their main scoring threat so how I can contain him will play a big factor," said Prince, who has slowed down some of the game's greats in the playoffs. "He gets rebounds and can push it up to start the fastbreak, creating for himself or his teammates."

When the young Sixers face the same-old Pistons with a new-and-improved bench, Iguodala said overcoming a mental challenge will be a key.

"Our main thing is, we have to go in believing we have a shot," Iguodala said.

Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks agreed.

"To be able to beat Detroit in four games is going to be a tough task for us, but it's not impossible," Cheeks said.