Cavs confident in push to eliminate Pistons

Updated: May 18, 2006, 11:06 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James and his teammates flashed only a few smiles after practice Thursday.

The Cavaliers are confident and feeling good about taking a 3-2 lead against the Detroit Pistons, but they've learned how quickly things can change in the playoffs.

"We're not surprised that we're up and I think Detroit's a little surprised that they're down," James said.

The Pistons aren't the only ones stunned by the course of this Eastern Conference series.

After being pounded in the first two games on Detroit's home floor, Cleveland has a chance to close out the Pistons at home Friday night and reach the conference finals for the first time since 1992.

"We're shocking the world right now," Cavaliers forward Drew Gooden said. "It's a great feeling to be leading this series."

The Pistons, though, are in a familiar spot. They've faced down elimination in the postseason before.

The Cavaliers are taking nothing for granted going into Game 6 after winning 86-84 Wednesday night at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Friday night's game is shaping up to be the franchise's biggest in more than a decade. While the Cavaliers aren't facing elimination, they feel an urgency to end the series at home, where they've won 15 of 16, the only loss coming in Game 2 of their playoff series against Washington.

"It's going to be very difficult especially because we're playing one of the best teams in the NBA," James said of Game 6. "What helps is that we're on our homecourt. We've got to protect home."

Cleveland's win in The Palace -- just the Pistons' fifth home loss all season -- came a night after the Cavaliers traveled to St. Louis to attend the funeral of guard Larry Hughes' brother, Justin.

"Since the tragic death of Justin, this whole thing has been dedicated to Larry and his family and Justin," James said. "It added more energy, added more will to want to win for him."

Cavaliers coach Mike Brown didn't know if Hughes, who hasn't played since Game 2, would be back Friday night. But James was hopeful.

"I would love to have Larry back, and I know he would love to be back," James said. "I think there's going to be a good chance he will be back (Friday)."

The Cavaliers played 45 games without Hughes, who had a broken finger. And they haven't had to rely on James to do it all the past three games.

They've gotten contributions from all their starters, including center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who finally stepped up (14 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks) Wednesday night. Anderson Varejao, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall have come off the bench to provide hustle.

"We're starting to find a way to win games," said Gooden, who had the game-winning shot Wednesday night. "We know what LeBron's going to do night in and night out. It's anybody's night after that."

Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace, who guaranteed the Cavaliers wouldn't get to a Game 6, apparently doesn't agree.

"I still say that one man ain't going to beat five," he said after Game 5.

Wallace rolled his ankle in Game 4 and didn't practice Thursday.

The Pistons, while admittedly playing tight, haven't lost their confidence.

"There's a good mind-set," coach Flip Saunders said. "They've been there before, and I've been in these situations in Minnesota. We just have to think about winning one game."

Detroit has plenty of experience facing postseason elimination and prevailing. The Pistons trailed 3-2 and went on to win against Miami in the Eastern Conference finals in 2005.

They did the same thing in the semifinals against New Jersey in 2004 and against Orlando in the first round in 2003.

The Pistons trailed the Magic 3-1 before winning, something Gooden, then a rookie with Orlando, doesn't like to recall.

"I'm not even trying to think about that," he said. "This is a whole different situation."

On Thursday, James repeated his mantra that the Cavaliers' three straight wins mean nothing if they fail to take the series.

The Pistons know it, too.

"These are the moments that define teams," Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter said. "It's going to be fun."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press