As the Cavs and Pistons prepare for their showdown this weekend (ABC, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET) ESPN.com NBA analyst Jamal Mashburn looks at the strengths and weaknesses of each team.
Change needed in King's court
The Cavs need a wake-up call. How can they shake the doldrums?
Make LeBron James into the point forward as soon as possible. His best assets are on display when he's being a playmaker. He's unselfish. The Cavs' approach should declare that he's our point guard and surround him with shooters.
So how does that affect the lineup?
What else is wrong in the kingdom?
The bench players aren't shooting the ball real well. On top of that, the Cavs aren't making their free throws consistently (68.7 percent, worst in the NBA).
Against a good defensive team in the playoffs, you have to make your free throws. Gilbert Arenas against the Cavs last season is an example of what not to do. If the Cavs made more free throws, they probably could have won two or three extra games this season.
Detroit usually makes its free throws. Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton are playing more this season. Both are averaging 37.7 minutes per game, higher than last year's average (1.6 and 2.4 minutes more per game, respectively). What's the best way to keep them fresh?
Players want to play. If a player is not getting his minutes, that's when there's a problem. I think this is the kind of thing that can be figured out on off days -- cutting down on practice time keeps players fresher.
This is a different team now. Coach Flip Saunders hasn't helped much. But GM Joe Dumars seemingly bounced back by getting Chris Webber. Nazr Mohammed is no Ben Wallace, but who could expect him to be?
Nazr had always been more of a fill-in guy, and with the bigger paycheck, he probably expected a bigger role. They might have thought they'd get more offense, but you're not going to replace Ben Wallace's defense with one player.
How could the Pistons have better renewed their defensive commitment?
Making a big play for Alonzo Mourning in the offseason. If you want to keep the focus on lockdown defense, he's your man. I know he erased a lot of my perimeter defensive mistakes when I played with him.
Let's look on the sunny side for the Pistons. Without Big Ben, they might match up better against the Mavericks and Jazz where the post games of the centers aren't as critical to negate. Wait, could this be the Pistons' year?
I think they have a good chance to come out of the East because of their size and ability. They match up quite well against many West teams. Take the Mavs. Now you'd put Rasheed Wallace on Dirk Nowitzki and put the defense of Tayshaun Prince on the blossoming game of Josh Howard.
ESPN analyst Jamal Mashburn, averaged 20.5 ppg over 11 seasons before playing his last game in 2004.
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Chris Webber (career 21 points, 10 rebounds) looks to help Flip Saunders and the Pistons get back to the NBA Finals.
As for the East... The injustices are unfixable without an injury or two. New Jersey's Vince Carter was the first sub named on the TNT broadcast, which means I was fuming from the start. It was an immediate indication that Redd was going to be snubbed, even though he had Milwaukee playing .500 ball before his recent knee injury and despite his projected return to the lineup next week.
I can live with Detroit getting both Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups in as All-Stars, but New Jersey? Sorry. The Nets don't deserve two, not at 22-24. It's obvious that the East's X and O men didn't read the Weekend Dime; Jason Kidd is the only Net playing at an All-Star level and Redd should have beaten out Carter. Ditto for Chicago's Ben Gordon.
Since the Dime was published, I also found myself rooting for Atlanta's Joe Johnson or Charlotte's Emeka Okafor to overcome my skepticism and their teams' unsightly records to sneak in, because those guys are likewise playing at an All-Star level. But with Josh and Melo bound to get makeup calls from Stern in coming days, no one in the league is a bigger snubee than my favorite lefty.
Cavaliers F LeBron James appeared on CBS' "Late Show" Thursday night, where CBS' David Letterman said the NBA All-Star Game is "not really a game, is it?"
James: "The first half, no. The first half is a kind of a free-for-all. Get some shots up, everybody tries to dunk, throw no-look passes, throw them in the crowd and try to hit a couple of people. But the second half gets really serious."
When Letterman showed James one of the old synthetic basketballs, James moved away from the ball in his chair and said, "I'm afraid of that." James: "Without any consent, without any notice they throw (the leather ball) out -- throw it in the trash -- and we get this ball from outer space" ("Late Show," CBS, 2/1).
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LeBron James needs to look for help from his teammates to get past the Pistons.
The Pistons won the first meeting 87-71 with 6 players in double figures. LeBron James had 26 points but the Cavs had their second-lowest scoring output of the season.
LeBron is averaging 23.2 points in 13 career games against the Pistons, his 4th lowest scoring average against an opponent. Pistons are 8-5 against the Cavs since LeBron entered the NBA but have won 4 straight against the Cavs.
Daily Dish: Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars talks about whether or not Webber will help Detroit win the Eastern Conference.
ESPN.com's Hollinger Power Rankings feature both the Pistons and Cavs in the top 15. See where they check in.
Here are some of the comments that you have submitted about how these teams are ranked:
(Cleveland) Let's just say we in Cleveland have gone so long without a championship when we see a good thing (like the 05 Indians or this years Cavs) we over inflate these teams to be great. The Cavs have the same problem the Timberwolves have had... a nonexistence second scorer. Some one to pick up the load while their superstar takes a break! Let us hope ... the changing of the starting lineup will help solidify the team in hopes they make it to the Eastern Conference finals.
Steve (Wyandotte, MI) The Pistons are 6-3 since adding Webber, and those three losses two are to Washington and they were close games. The Pistons are in the right direction, they just need to play with each other a little bit more with Webber in the mix and they'll be fine for the playoffs.
Brian (Detroit): The Pistons have only played five of their 16 games against Central Division teams. They were sluggish against the Bucks in the home opener, lost twice to a Pacers team led by their former coach and lost to Bulls with Chauncey out. They won the biggest game in Cleveland, though. I think you ESPN folks are so scared about how great we're going to be with Webber that you'll revert to any measures possible to knock them down. Nothing wrong with a trip to Michigan in June. I'll take you to the good places.
Committee's Counter: Wow. The effort you put into rationalizing the reality of this week's Pistons comment in the rankings is more astounding than your assertion that there are secret "good places" no one told us about during the 2004 and 2005 Finals.