'Jordan Rules' making comeback for latest poster child
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- For now, call it the LeBron Plan.
"We've got a name for it," Pistons coach Flip Saunders told The Associated Press on Saturday with a sly grin. "But I'm not going to talk about it now. Maybe later."
The Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers open the Eastern Conference finals Monday night. And while the name of the Pistons' plan may be under wraps, the strategy itself is not quite as mysterious.
Tayshaun Prince will be the primary defender, drawing his usual assignment against a star on the perimeter, but he will get plenty of help.
"It's going to be a collective effort," Saunders said.
Detroit wants to limit the number of times James has the ball in the lane.
"If you let him get to the basket, he can make plays for himself and other people," Saunders said.
When the Pistons are unsuccessful, they don't want him to enjoy bump-free paths to the basket.
"At this point, no matter who it is, he's going to get fouled hard going to the basket," Saunders said. "You've seen that in the playoffs so far and as you extend in the playoffs, more is at stake. You might kind of like somebody the first game and the second game you kind of don't like them. By the fifth game, you hate them. That's just the playoffs."
In last year's conference semifinals, Detroit trapped James, went over screens and under screens while sending waves of defenders at him. James managed to be spectacular at times but was stunted at others, including the second half of Game 7 when he made only one field goal.
"I've seen almost every defense that I could possibly see for the rest of my career in this series," James said on May 21, 2006. "That's why they're Eastern Conference champions, and that's why they keep winning."
A year later, the Pistons are still winning while the Cavs have won more in the playoffs than they have in more than a decade.
Cleveland beat New Jersey 88-72 Friday night, advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 1992 against a team that has been at least this far in five straight years.
"We had a lot of physical plays, which is going to help us in the Detroit series because that's a very physical team," he said. "I think that's going to help us get over the hump. But at the same time, it's a very great team we're playing."
The Pistons want to do more than just test James physically. They want to confuse him by randomly alternating man-to-man and zone defenses while sending up to five different defenders toward him.
"I don't want to give out all our secrets," reserve guard Lindsey Hunter said. "But we just want to make him work extremely hard and give him a lot of different looks to not let him get comfortable and settled in on how we're going to guard him. We want him to think and to tire him out."
Detroit doesn't want to let James relax on defense, either, whether he's guarding Prince or somebody else.
"We want to go at LeBron," Saunders said. "We've got to keep him on his heels."
The Pistons hope they can keep their cool if James' stardom leads to favorable calls from the officials.
"We know he's going to get his love and go to the line, but we're going to make it hard for him," power forward Rasheed Wallace said. "He can get 30, but he's going to have to put up like 30 shots."
Detroit had the same mind-set entering its four straight playoff matchups with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from 1988-91 and that plan prevented him from reaching the NBA finals until his seventh season in the league.
Joe Dumars led the "Jordan Rules" as shooting guard back then. Now, he is Detroit's president of basketball operations.
"The game plan is the same," Dumars told the AP. "We never leave one guy out there and say, 'It's your job to try to stop this guy.' We send five guys out with a mission to limit that particular guy.
"I don't know how many rules we have, but I do know that all five guys understand that it's their job as five to not leave Tayshaun or whoever it is out there by himself."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press