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Eastern Conference Semifinals: Pistons vs. Magic, Game Five

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Eastern Conference Semifinals
Orlando Magic main logo
Detroit Pistons main logo
Pistons Lead Series, 3-1
The Palace of Auburn Hills
7:00 PM
Probable starters:
Jameer Nelson PG Chauncey Billups
Maurice Evans SG Richard Hamilton
Hedo Turkoglu SF Tayshaun Prince
Rashard Lewis PF Jason Maxiell
Dwight Howard C Rasheed Wallace
Series Central

Let's get this bit of news out of the way first: Chris McCoskey reports (thanks, DBB) that Chauncey Billups will play tonight if he feels ready; that is, the Pistons have no plans to hold him out as a precautionary measure. I'd expect that Rodney Stuckey would start once more for Detroit if Billups doesn't feel well enough to play.

The Magic need to win three straight games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and become the eighth team in NBA history to comeback from a 3-1 deficit. Obviously, that's a tall order, especially against a Pistons team that's surging after its spectacular come-from-behind victory in Orlando on Saturday.

The Pistons had one three-game losing streak this season: from January 18th to January 21st, they dropped consecutive games to the Sacramento Kings, to the Chicago Bulls, and to the Magic. In each of those losses, the Pistons shot an effective field goal percentage well below their average. But the real reason the Pistons lost those games was their poor defense, specifically their tendency to foul. The Bulls and Magic shot 36 and 37 free throws, respectively, in those games, in which the Pistons were the visitors. Hmmm.

And in those losses the Kings and the Bulls, the Pistons allowed their opponent's bench to erupt. Kevin Martin, Mike Bibby, and Ron Artest combined for 58 of Sacramento's 100 points; similarly, Ben Gordon contributed 33 off Chicago's pine. Since the Magic's reserves provide little in the way of offense, the Magic's better bet is to drive aggressively to the basket and hope to get fouled, then convert on the subsequent free-throws. Defensive free-throw rate was the Pistons' biggest weakness in the regular season, and it showed in their only three-game skid of the year.

Two caveats: three games in the middle of January does not a great sample size make; and the Kings' big bench scorers in that game typically start. But I thought it was worth examining nonetheless.

Tipoff's at 7 on TNT. Our season could officially end at or around 9:30. Think about that one for a second.

Go Magic. Prove Jameer right.