Pistons 85, Cavs 71
--Cavs qualified for the playoffs tonight, thanks to New Jersey's loss to Phoenix, which is the limited good news for the team. The way they are handled in this one actually may end up being good for them. It is a reality check and a reminder of where they need to get better. Also, it shows how much work they have to do, although I am not sure there is time. The Pistons were upset with the way they played in Cleveland last week and so they pushed back. Now we'll see what the Cavs do. --This is the second time in the last month I have felt the Cavs got shoved around and knocked off their game by pure physical play. The other time was in Boston, when the Celtics play the same roughhouse stuff. Not a coincidence when you look at the standings. The Pistons were way more aggressive on the defensive end and it took the Cavs out of their game. They responded by complaining about calls. Sure there were some missed calls, but why would the officials respect the way they were playing? Want to know the last time Mike Brown got a technical? In Boston. Again, not a coincidence. --Based on my conversations with players and coaches, I think of one the reasons the Cavs and LeBron couldn't answer the move to put Rip Hamilton on him was due to the limited plays they have installed on offense. I am told they are not yet ready to operate with LeBron in the post because they aren't crisp with how to handle the double teams. These are the penalites you pay when you make an 11-player deal this late in the season. Not everyone is up to speed, things have been forgotten, things are in disarray. I supposed they'll have to be more ready when they play the Pistons again on the final night of the season. Although, that game will probably be meaningless to Detroit. --That said, there must be better work by the players and coaching staff to help LeBron out. He was being swallowed up by the Pistons and it didn't seem to me like much was being done about it. He settled for jumpers, too much, but he never had much space and there didn't look like many antidotes were being tried. --The only guy who seemed to play aggressively tonight was Devin Brown. He attacked the glass, moved on offensive and took mostly smart shots. He had 11 points and two assists. --The injury to Ben Wallace is a blow. The Cavs wanted to rest him, but I don't think that is why he was hurt. When he was in the air Antonio McDyess smashed his shoulder and bad his back twisted quickly. At this point, I think you'll see the Cavs try to shut him down for another long stretch. He's left three games with pain now, that conclusion must be reached. --Daniel Gibson looked very rusty in his 20 minutes. I don't think he trusts that ankle yet, several times he swallowed shots because he didn't seem like he wanted to draw his leg up underneath him. When you miss a quarter of the season, things like this happen.
Recap, if you must:
Starting lineups Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas EDIT: West was a late scratch for Damon Jones. Pistons: Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace
--All the "questionable" guys were cleared. West hasn't practiced for two days and I think the Cavs wanted to rest Big Ben over the weekend, but he seemed to win out. Daniel Gibson is back as well. That is the first time since Anderson Varejao got hurt in January in L.A. and the first time since the trade the Cavs' full rotation has been available. We'll see how it plays out. EDIT: This is no longer true, see the note above. --The Cavs' lead on the No. 4 spot in the East has shrunk to two games, which makes this weekend semi-important. Plus playing the Pistons is always a big deal. There is no excuse for a focus issue here, which has been the case on the road for the Cavs for the last month. Plus, they 've had two days off so there is no rest issue. --In my mind, West is better equipped to guard a guy like Billups than guys like Chris Paul and Mo Williams. He did a good job last week in Cleveland and that is a key matchup. Also, let's see how much the Pistons test Big Ben with Sheed as they did last week. I have no faith in anyone, though, who can cover Hamilton and the Pistons seemed to forget this in the second half last time. Bet they don't this time.
Halftime -- Pistons 49, Cavs 33
--They have are being handled by a much more aggressive and physical Pistons team. This is especially true at the defensive end, where the Pistons are pushing the Cavs around. This is why the Cavs aren't getting any calls, because they have not earned them. In a switch, Flip Saunders has put Rip Hamilton on LeBron instead of Prince. The reason, I believe, is because Rip is better at keeping LeBron in front of him. Otherwise, the Cavs are allowing themselves to be pushed around. Not unlike how the Celtics pushed them around in Boston a few weeks ago. That said, LeBron is 3-of-11 and Z is 3-of-11. Those are bad performances. --The Pistons are shooting the ball pretty well tonight, which means they are going to look good. They have gotten quite a few points in transition, but in the halfcourt they have taken mostly mid-range jumpers. I believe this is the Pistons biggest downfall, they shoot too many jumpers. I expect them to level off a bit on them in the second half, but if they keep getting to run offense before the Cavs are set then it will be a blowout. The Cavs have to be more effective on the offensive end. --Ben Wallace has looked good at times now that he is back, he has four rebounds and two blocks and is 3-of-3 shooting. He is one guy who is bringing it physcially, which isn't a surprise. --Damon Jones is a liability at the Pistons at the defensive end at times, him running the point against this team isn't a great matchup. But he does have four assists, he's tried to run the offense and get the Cavs into things. For what it is worth.
Postgame Stars Tayshaun Prince, 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists Antonio McDyess, 14 points, 10 rebounds
Quotes: LeBron: ""It was complete dominatation. They knocked us out of our sets. Rip has guarded me before, he is good but he knew he had guys behind him." Mike Brown: "They came out and got up into us, they were very physical from the opening tip. You have to make sure you are punching along with them or the result will be the same."