Saturday, May 05, 2007

Prince vs. Deng

The Bulls-Pistons matchup should be fantastic. Both teams have gritty, hard-nosed guards that can score. Both have wily Argentines coming off the bench with a penchant for flopping. And both have a key interior player named Wallace; one of whom (Ben) played for the opposition just last year. More than anything, they each have a small forward vital to their chances for success.

There are obviously a lot of keys in the series, as is true with any playoff matchup. But it is hard to see anything shaping the outcome of this showdown more than the battle at small forward. The guard play should be close to a draw, as the Bulls always play Billups and Hamilton tough and can counter with their own potent duo of Hinrich and Gordon. And while everyone is fixated on Ben Wallace returning to Motown, I'm not sure that his impact on the series will be enormous. He spurs the Bulls with his heart and hustle and willingness to give up his body to stop interior scoring, but Detroit mainly relies on their big guys to spread the floor, with Sheed's shooting and Webber's passing. The place where Big Ben should really have success is on the offensive glass, as the Pistons are in the bottom third in the league in that category and Wallace is the master of tipping balls out to teammates. However, short of Skiles suddenly playing Tyrus Thomas big minutes and taking advantage of that built-in speed and athleticism edge (one that could be countered only if Flip goes to Jason Maxiell off his own bench), the deciding factor in this series could very be Prince's ability to stop Deng from scoring.

Once upon a time, Tayshaun Prince was being hailed as the NBA's next great defender thanks to his performance against Kobe Bryant in the 2004 NBA Finals. However, that legend took a hit in the next two postseasons as first Wade, then LeBron, then Wade again, punished him in the new "no touching!" (see: George Bluth's prison stint in Arrested Development) NBA. Now Prince is at a bit of an impasse. NBA insider's and scouts still love him and feel he's a pretty special defensive player, but he hasn't really proved that on a big stage in a while. Now he gets his chance against the man Charles Barkley often calls Leo Dong by accident. Deng was literally unstoppable against Miami, as the Heat lacked anyone "athletic and agile" (Pacino in The Recruit) enough to guard him. But Prince appears to be the perfect guy to blanket Deng. If he can ratchet the Bulls' young swingman back down to the 16-18 ppg range, the Pistons should be able to prevail in this series, and possibly do it in five games. But if Deng continues to score 25-30 a contest, I think the Bulls will take this in six.

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