Updated: May 21, 2006, 11:40 AM ET

DAILY DIME: SPECIAL EDITION
Cavaliers at Pistons, Game 7

We asked a handful of ESPN's NBA writers, editors and commentators to forecast Game 7 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons:

Chris Sheridan, ESPN Insider: I expect to see the Pistons we've come to know over the past two years, but I'm a little shaky on whether they'll show up. They looked scared in Games 5 and 6, and if the Cavs can stay with them through three quarters, they can win.

Greg Anthony, ESPN: Look for the Pistons to amp up the intensity. Cleveland needs to control the tempo and keep the game in the 70s or 80s to have any chance. Miami, pack your bags -- you're heading to Detroit!

Ken Shouler, ESPN.com: As great as Lebron James is, his scoring average has fallen nine points below his average against Washington, and his field goal percentage has fallen off, too. Many great players have gotten an education in losing before they could win.

Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine: Disruptions are bonecrushers in Game 7s and that, unfortunately, is exactly what the return of Larry Hughes is for the Cavs. They didn't play all that well with him during the regular season and they've played measurably better without him against the Pistons. It's not how Hallmark or Disney would write it, what with Hughes returning from the funeral of his much beloved brother, but that's what it is. Detroit wins by single digits and everyone leaves wondering if Hughes helped or hurt.

Playoff Schedule
WEST SEMIFINALS
Dallas 3, San Antonio 3
Game 7: Mon., 8 ET, at SA

Phoenix 3, LA Clippers 3
Game 7: Mon., 10:30 ET, at PHX

EAST SEMIFINALS
Cleveland 3, Detroit 3
Game 7: Sun., 3:30 ET, at DET

Miami 4, New Jersey 1
Heat await Pistons-Cavs winner

The full playoff schedule

John Hollinger, ESPN Insider: Even with Cleveland playing its hardest and Detroit fairly clearly not, the Cavs were squeaking out victories by the slimmest of margins. I expect Detroit to at least match Cleveland effort-wise, and come away with a 10-point win as a result.

Will Perdue, ESPN Radio: Cleveland must have an inside presence to have any chance at winning Game 7, which means Big Z had better come to play. Even though Cleveland has a chance, you cannot teach experience, so I believe Detroit will win on that alone.

Chris Ramsay, ESPN.com editor: The last three games have each been decided by two points, and I expect another very close, low-scoring game. LeBron will have a chance to win it in the end and just might do it.

B.J. Armstrong, ESPN: The Cavaliers' lack of experience in a Game 7 will be either their great asset or their worst enemy. In big games such as this, it is best to presume no knowledge of anything at all. As the Pistons have found out in this series, one thing is for certain and that is nothing is for certain. Therefore, I expect the Pistons' understanding and experience to be the deciding factor in Game 7.

Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: LeBron James will come up huge in the biggest game of his young career, but it won't be enough as the Pistons will finally wake up and play great team basketball on both sides of the ball the way they've done all season. Pistons by 10.

Royce Webb, ESPN.com editor: It would make no sense to pick against the Pistons, except for one thing -- night after night, these playoffs have defied expectations. The Pistons will move on, I believe, but their dull play of late and the LeBron factor make them ripe for a Game 7 upset.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: We're going to see a Pistons victory, but it's been ages since we've seen the Pistons play loose, move the ball, attack offensively, get transition baskets out of their defense and intimidate like they did all season. With the Heat getting some rest and feeling better about themselves than they have all season, Detroit better show us some of those things in Game 7 against the gallant Cavs to give Miami something to think about.

• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: May 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20


Ben Waiting

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Chauncey is Mr. Big Shot. Rip is the midrange marksman. Tayshaun is the stopper. 'Sheed is the motormouth, and the most talented player. But Big Ben is the heart and soul ... and a free-agent-to-be who could be playing his last game in Pistons red, white and blue.


SportsNation Speaks
We asked the fans of SportsNation who is feeling the most pressure, who will win and who the Miami Heat would rather face.

Here are your answers:

1) Which team is under more pressure?
76.6% The Pistons, to win Game 7 as the favored team and protect their legacy
23.4% The Cavs, to win Game 7 on the road and pull off the upset

2) Which player is under more pressure?
61.3% LeBron James, the 21-year-old expected to lead the Cavs
38.7% Chauncey Billups, the Pistons' floor leader with the ''Mr. Big Shot'' rep

3) Which coach is under more pressure?
90.3% Pistons coach Flip Saunders, to prove he can meet expectations in the playoffs
9.7% First-year Cavs coach Mike Brown, to prove himself

4) If the game comes down to one shot, who is most likely to make it?
53.0% LeBron James
32.9% Chauncey Billups
6.8% Richard Hamilton
3.1% Rasheed Wallace
1.4% Tayshaun Prince
1.3% Damon Jones
0.7% Someone else
0.6% Donyell Marshall
0.2% Flip Murray

5) The Pistons are favored by nine points on Sunday. What is your prediction?
39.6% The Pistons win by fewer than nine points.
37.5% The Cavaliers win.
22.9% The Pistons win by nine points or more.

6) Which team would the Miami Heat rather face?
90.1% Cavaliers -- the Heat would be favored and have home court.
9.9% Pistons -- the Heat would have the opportunity to beat the East's top team.

• SportsNation poll: Cast your vote on Cavs-Pistons Game 7



Intel Report
Editor's note: ESPN.com's NBA Intelligence Report is a daily collection of stories from around the web. It is available each weekday to ESPN Insider subscribers.

This is a special Daily Dime edition, with seven stories for Game 7:


James Not Changing For Game 7
A 21-year-old who has come of age in his postseason debut sees no harm in sometimes acting his age. The pressure of his first Game 7 against the Detroit Pistons be damned. "I hadn't been in Game 1s or Game 2s or Game 3s or 5s or 6s until this year, and I think I handled myself the right way,'' James said. "I'm not going to change anything I do ... I'm not going to go to sleep a little earlier. I've got to treat it like a normal game.''

James is the Cavs' reason for hope today at The Palace in Auburn Hills. A superstar can sometimes steal one game by himself. As confident as the Pistons have a right to feel, they also know James' brilliance can be the difference in a close game. -- Akron Beacon-Journal

One Cavs Win Could Heal Two Playoff Hurts
Today's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons not only advances the winner to conference finals, but a Cavs victory could erase the demons from Damon Jones' past. It was last year's conference finals between the Pistons and the Miami Heat. The Heat led the series, 3-2, but the Pistons forced a seventh game. Jones, the starting point guard for the Heat, twisted his ankle early in the first half of Game 7 but continued to play. He had his worst game of the playoffs. Jones finished with one point and one crucial late turnover. The Pistons went on to victory. Jones cannot escape the pain from that defeat. "I'm still living with that loss today," Jones said. -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

Hughes Is Prepared To Be Used
Long after his teammates exited, Larry Hughes remained on the court Saturday, working with assistant coach Melvin Hunt and advance scout/video coordinator Bryant Moore. When he finally met with reporters, his face was covered in sweat - and a smile.

"It feels good," Hughes said of his first practice since the death of his 20-year-old brother Justin on May 11. "Just being out there on the court feels good. It has been a long season. It's what I love to do -- just work, not take anything for granted. Any day I can get into the gym, I'm in the gym."

Hughes is expected to play in today's deciding Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich., although coach Mike Brown is unsure exactly how much or in which situations he'll use Hughes. -- Cleveland Plain Dealer



Pistons No Strangers To Pressure
We all will be witnesses today. We will witness from the living room, at the bar, in the kitchen, at the cabin and at our neighbors' homes. And yes, some of us actually will be witnesses at The Palace for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. We either will witness history -- which would be tragic for the Pistons -- or we will witness the great Houdini escaping another death chamber. This is Game 7 and I will try to avoid the tired old cliches such as "winner-take-all" or "must-win" and "do or die". But it is true. -- Detroit News

Pistons Hope Home Court Is An Advantage
The Detroit Pistons knew having home court advantage throughout the playoffs would come in handy at some point, but few thought it would be this soon. When the Pistons play a winner-take-all Game 7 with Cleveland, Detroit has the luxury of playing today at The Palace because of its NBA-best 64 wins during the regular season. Pistons coach Flip Saunders acknowledges there is a considerable amount of value in playing at home. However, it'll take more than a few thousand rowdy, raucous fans for the Pistons to move on to the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth straight season. -- Booth Newspapers

Billups Regroups
The first few minutes of Game 6 must have seemed like a bad dream to Chauncey Billups. His first shot was blocked. Then he made two bad turnovers in a row. His second shot was an airball.

"When you aren't playing your greatest, you always look for that next opportunity to get back on that horse," he said. "For me, that was Game 6. I was just too excited, man. It hurt me and it hurt the team. It happens. I was able to settle down."

That was the amazing part of it. Billups had two turnovers and no field goals at the half. But he didn't crumble. He rallied himself and scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth. -- Detroit News

Flip Tries To Go The Distance
Flip Saunders, who handles himself with grace, is in a tough position this season, his first with the Pistons. If Detroit takes the championship, many will say it's all the players, as they will have won it with two coaches in three years. But if those players lose -- guess who'll get the blame? Already Saunders has taken some grenades. Last week, as the Pistons began sagging in the fourth quarter of Game 2 (Saunders admitted letting his starters play too long) and then dropped three straight to the Cavaliers, reaching the blink of elimination, pundits turned the finger on the man in the suit. They said Saunders' pedigree was coming back to haunt him. ESPN analysts scorched him, citing his poor playoff record in Minnesota. Even TNT's Charles Barkley said Flip was the man under the greatest microscope. And we all know Charles is never wrong. -- Detroit Free Press

See our special playoff edition of the Intelligence Report


Talkin' Game 7

LeBron James says, "Everybody expects them to win, so they've got all the pressure." See what Chauncey Billups, Flip Saunders and Ben Wallace have to say about the Pistons' chances.

LeBron, Pistons talk about Detroit's home-court advantage and who's feeling pressure



Poster Manchild
LeBron James
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Can LeBron bust loose against the Pistons in Game 7 and lead the Cavs to victory? It's the biggest question of the NBA season so far.


Game 7 Facts
NBA

Home-cooked advantage
The home team has won 81.7 percent (76 of 93) of the NBA's previous Game 7s.

Most Game 7s
Active players
7: Robert Horry, Spurs
6: Sam Cassell, Clippers
5: Antonio Davis, Raptors
5: Dale Davis, Pistons
5: Lindsey Hunter, Pistons
5: Gary Payton, Heat

Best Record (Team), Game 7
TEAM WINS LOSSES PCT
Cavaliers 2 0 1.000
Timberwolves 1 0 1.000
Celtics 17 5 0.773
Mavericks 3 1 0.750
Rockets 5 2 0.714
Heat 2 1 0.667
Wizards 6 3 0.667
Lakers 13 8 0.619

Most Points (Player), Game 7
PLAYER DATE TEAM OPP PTS W/L
S. Jones 4-10-63 BOS CIN 47 W
D. Wilkins 5-22-88 ATL BOS 47 L
K. Johnson 5-20-95 PHX HOU 46 L
C. Barkley 5-5-93 PHX SEA 44 W
A. Iverson 6-3-01 PHI MIL 44 W

Largest Margin Of Victory, Game 7
MARGIN DATE SCORE
40 5-7-05 Dallas 116, Houston 76
39 4-6-48 Philly 85, St. Louis 46
35 4-9-70 LAL 129, Phoenix 94
31 5-6-06 Phoenix 121, LAL 90
29 5-17-92 Chicago 110, NY 81
27 5-7-05 Indiana 97, Boston 70
24 6-4-95 Orlando 105, Indiana 81
21 5-20-04 Detroit 90, New Jersey 69

-- ESPN Research



Scouts Inc. Breakdown
LeBron James

Scouts Inc. is previewing every game of the playoffs.

This is an excerpt of the scouting report for Game 7:

LeBron James cannot get into a stretch where he settles for outside shots. James has to continue to drive to the basket and force the Pistons to pick up fouls as they attempt to contest his layups.

The Cavaliers have success on the pick-and-roll when the screener rolls toward the basket. The Pistons are late to defend the slashing screener because the focus is still on James.

Lindsey Hunter is defending James more and will do so in Game 7. James has the size advantage on Hunter and should look to post more, but Hunter works like crazy trying to front the post.

See complete Scouts Inc. breakdown Insider



2006 vs. 1994
Since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, the conference semifinals have featured three Game 7s only once -- until this year.

In 1994, New York beat its nemesis, Chicago, 4-3 in a series that remains controversial -- a foul call against Scottie Pippen was debated (jokingly) just last week on ESPN. That's also the series in which Pippen notoriously sat out the final 1.8 seconds of Game 3, won by the Bulls on Toni Kukoc's buzzer-beater.

On the day before the Knicks knocked out the Bulls, two Game 7s decided things in the West. The No. 5 Utah Jazz finished off the surprising No. 8 Denver Nuggets, who had registered perhaps the greatest upset in playoff history when they beat the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in the first round.

Sam Cassell

And the Houston Rockets (featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and young players Robert Horry, Kenny Smith and Sam Cassell) completed an unlikely comeback over the defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns after the Suns had won the first two games of the series in Houston.

On top of all that drama, you had a seven-game NBA Finals in which the Rockets outlasted the Knicks.

(And speaking of drama, it was during the Knicks-Rockets Finals that NBC cut into Game 5 to show the infamous slow-speed car chase, with O.J. Simpson in a white Bronco.)

So the 1994 playoffs are in the running for "Greatest Playoffs Ever," right?

Not so fast.

There are two reasons the '94 postseason isn't remembered all that fondly.

First, it was the first postseason of Michael Jordan's first retirement, and His Airness cast a shadow over the whole affair. His absence was considered by many the reason the Knicks were able to -- for once -- beat the Bulls, and it opened the door for a new, somewhat devalued NBA champion.

Second, the '94 Finals are considered by many as the nadir of pro basketball, as the Knicks and Rockets slugged it out for seven ugly games in which neither team reached 94 points.

No MJ and no 94 in '94? Not quite the equal of '06, with LBJ, Kobe, the Pistons, the Suns, the Clippers, the Mavs and the Spurs creating so many memorable moments so far.

-- Royce Webb



Bag It!
From the Daily Dime mailbag:

Gus (Chapel Hill, NC): The Cavs, Mavs and Clips all had their shots (Cavs and Mavs in Game 6 and Clippers in Game 5) and couldn't get it done. With experience as the deciding factor, all three favorites will now rise to the occasion and show their opponents how to finish a series.

Ivanna (Muskegon, MI): I think Pistons fans should all show up wearing white T-shirts with bold black letters that say, "Witness This." You had your chance Cleveland and you blew it. Deeeetroit Basketball!!!

Eric (San Jose, CA): Simply put, it's Lebron James' first Game 7, and just like every other type of first game he's had, he's going to exceed expectations.

Justin (Akron, OH): The Cavaliers will pull up this upset. Did you see how nervous Flip Saunders was the past two games? Gooden is going to have a great game. Also, watch out for Larry to go off as he plays, and Lebron will have the biggest game of his career tonight. Detroit has more experience than the Cavs, but I think the real question is, who wants it more -- Chauncey or Eric Snow?

David (Alameda, CA): This year's playoffs have been a tremendous example of the evenly distributed talent amongst successful teams as well as intelligent and creative coaching. Exploiting matchup difficulties and utilizing "small ball" have been featured in every round, and personally I'm very happy to see the struggles in the semifinals (Miami aside).

Paul (Fayetteville, NC): Even though it still might be the Pistons and the Spurs in the Finals, three Game 7s prove that that the possibilities are endless. As a lifelong NBA fan I can say that for the first time in a long time, I am very excited by about the future of the NBA.

Sound off in our mailbag

 

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