Detroit knows that the championship window may close for good after this season, so the Pistons cannot come into this series with last year's sense of entitlement that caused them to struggle in the early rounds and ultimately give away the conference title to Cleveland.
The Pistons should come in with a sweep on their minds, with tough aggressive defense and crisp, efficient offense, hoping to overwhelm these Sixers -- many of them new to the playoff intensity they are about to experience.
The Sixers, however, have no doubts about their ability to contend in this series. They beat the Pistons 83-82 in Detroit only a month ago, when the Pistons' starters were still playing major minutes.
As Detroit shifts into "playoff mode," it brings the NBA's third-best field goal percentage defense and is second in the league in points allowed, ranking fourth in overall defensive efficiency.
The Pistons will try to put a stranglehold on Andre Iguodala, with Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince sharing the duties, and will likely employ their zone schemes often -- since the Sixers are the NBA's worst 3-point shooting team.
Andre Miller may have to be more assertive offensively if Iguodala struggles, and Miller's matchup with Chauncey Billups pits two of the bigger, more aggressive point guards in the league head-to-head. Both can bother the other (remember how Larry Hughes used his size to bother Billups in the Eastern finals).
Detroit plays offense at the slowest pace in the NBA, and its grind-it-out style can make its defense seem even more suffocating. The Sixers can get more production out of Willie Green, Louis Williams, Rodney Carney and rookie Thaddeus Young if they can get them out in the open floor, and Miller is perhaps the top hit-ahead passer East of Steve Nash.
Detroit will look to establish Rasheed Wallace in the post and Richard Hamilton running off screens, and Billups will make sure everyone stays happy. At crunch time, look for Mr. Big Shot to take on more of a scoring role, both by backing his man down and in the pick-and-roll game.
The Pistons' bench is young, deep and talented, but this series is about their starters playing like that championship machine of 2004.
The elephant in the room for the Pistons in the playoffs is the emotional state of Wallace, who has never let the importance of the moment keep him from hurting his team with a technical foul or a distracting, emotional scene. Don't expect him to lose it in this series ... but stay tuned.
Miller: The leader on the court for the young Sixers, he will be counted on to provide a steady hand against a veteran playoff team. He uses his size and savvy to score on drives, short jumpers and post-ups, but was held to 11.7 points and 3.7 assists in three games against the Pistons this season -- well below his season numbers of 17.2 and 6.9. He can't muscle Billups, and keeping him out of the lane limits his ability to create. When the Pistons play zone they will beg him to shoot it -- one of the worst 3-point shooters in the league at 8.8 percent (3-for-34).
Billups: Veteran who can provide whatever Detroit needs -- leadership, scoring, assists and defense. He is content in getting his teammates going, or taking over the scoring load at crunch time. Shot 9-for-18 from 3 and 18-for-20 from the line in four games against the Sixers, but he likes to post more come playoff time He took only nine shots in the Pistons' one-point loss to the Sixers on March 12, so look for him to be more aggressive offensively this series.
Green: Has averaged 14.7 points on 53 percent shooting in three games versus Detroit. Detroit has had trouble keeping him out of the lane on drives. He's shooting 25 percent from the 3 in April, so look for him to pass up the jumper and continue attacking the Pistons off the dribble.
Hamilton: Although a consistent performer year after year for Detroit, Hamilton has been up and down against Philly this season. Had 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting in a January win, then was held to nine points on 2-for-7 shooting in Detroit's one-point loss in March. Can shoot the jumper, drive and run defenders ragged off screens. Look for Billups to try to get Rip going early and often in this series.
Iguodala: The Sixers' leading scorer was held to 15-for-50 shooting by the Pistons in their first three meetings, but got to the foul line 25 times. His versatility makes him a tough guy to guard, as he will catch and shoot on the perimeter, face up and shoot in the post, or drive the lane and dunk on everybody. He's shooting 46 percent from the field in April -- 35 percent from 3. The Pistons will defend him with Hamilton and Prince to give him different looks.
Prince: Had almost identical offensive performances in the first three games against the Sixers -- scoring 15, 16 and 13 points. Will score in transition, catch and shoot, and will back down his man on the right block for his left-handed jump hook in the lane. Although he is shooting fewer 3-pointers this season, he has shot 43.3 percent from behind the arc in the playoffs over the past two years. However, his great value in this series will be his tag-team defense with Hamilton on Iguodala.
Evans: Had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the Sixers' win at Detroit in March, and had double-figure rebounds in the two earlier games. His energy, effort and hustle were a big part of the Sixers' playoff run. He is not afraid to take it right at the Pistons' shot-blockers, and his offensive rebounding and ability to finish in traffic around the basket will be key.
Wallace: Ask all the Pistons, and they will tell you that in the playoffs, this team goes as Rasheed goes. His post scoring, 3-point shooting and interior defense and shot-blocking are vital for Detroit to make a championship run. But it is his temperament that will be monitored more closely than his stat line. Dalembert's length can give Wallace some trouble inside, and Wallace was only 2-for-12 from 3 against the Sixers this season. If Wallace does get it going offensively, Philly doesn't have an answer.
Dalembert: His scoring went down while his rebounding and shot-blocking went up in the first three games against Detroit this season. He will need to fill all three of those categories if the Sixers are to present a challenge. He won't stray too far from the restricted area to score, but he does have a jump hook in the post if needed. Gets most of his points on dump-offs, lobs and offensive rebounds. If he is quick to the glass when Detroit's shot-blockers commit, he can make a big offensive contribution.
McDyess:The consummate complementary starter for this team, he gives Detroit great size up front, which can be a problem for the Sixers' smaller forwards. Will shoot the jump shot or post up when Wallace is roaming the perimeter. He averaged 10 points and almost 8 rebounds against Philly this season.
Louis Williams: Provides quickness and dribble penetration as the backup point guard. He's the best 3-point shooter on the worst 3-point shooting team in the league. Scored in double figures in three of four games against the Pistons.
Thaddeus Young: His playing time has steadily increased, and his versatility and athleticism have played a big part in Philly's success. Can slash, drive or post against a variety of Pistons matchups. Had 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the March 12 win.
Rodney Carney: Had 16 points off the bench in the Sixers' win over the Pistons in March. Provides outside shooting against the Pistons' zone and is a tough cover for the Pistons' second unit.
Jason Smith: Averaged 21 minutes in the four games against Detroit and has provided size and rebounding. If Dalembert gets into foul trouble, he may be pressed into extra duty.
Jason Maxiell: Brings versatility, toughness, defense and shot-blocking to the second unit. Can play small forward, power forward and even center -- as he did back in the November win over the Sixers. Makes hustle plays on both ends and has picked up his scoring in April -- averaging 10.8 points in 23 minutes per game.
Jarvis Hayes: Has brought shooting and scoring punch to the second unit all season -- making 73 3-point shots on 38 percent from the arc in 15 minutes per game.
Rodney Stuckey: Has averaged 14 points in 27 minutes per game in April. Pistons have tried to expand his role (almost 19 minutes per game during the regular season). Might see limited action since turnovers can be an issue for him as the primary ballhandler.
Theo Ratliff: Veteran shot-blocker was a great midseason pickup. Can spell McDyess and Wallace or anchor the middle of an athletic second unit.
Arron Afflalo: Has gotten extended minutes late in the season as starters coasted. Can score and defend but might not see much time in the playoffs.
Late-season pickup can provide some scoring punch and veteran experience. May look to him rather than Afflalo or even Stuckey.
Pistons have him ready for his energy, defense and leadership role in the playoffs.
Young athlete really making strides, but not enough to expect big playoff minutes.
David Thorpe: Detroit might deserve more acclaim than it has received this season -- the Pistons are an outstanding team. But Philly is soaring with confidence after its recent win in Detroit. If Detroit can't beat the Sixers in Game 1, Philly's confidence will only grow. But Detroit is such a superior team that it's hard to envision a Golden State-Dallas situation.
Prediction: Detroit 4, Philadelphia 2
Mike Moreau: The Pistons have said and done all the right things leading up to the playoffs, and they know this may be their last shot at a title. They will come in all business. The Sixers might steal one once Detroit takes command of the series.
Prediction: Detroit 4, Philadelphia 1
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. To e-mail him, click here.
Mike Moreau is the Director of Basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, FL. He also serves an NBA Analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.