Detroit swept Orlando in the first round of last year's playoffs, but this Magic team is a much more formidable opponent in 2008. The addition of Rashard Lewis, the career season of Hedo Turkoglu and the emerging stardom of Dwight Howard should be enough to keep the Pistons from sleepwalking through any game in this series.
These teams have already split four games during the regular season, with each team winning once at home and once on the road.
The Magic are coming off a fast and furiously paced five-game series with Toronto, and they will try to get the Pistons to speed things up as much as possible. Orlando shot only 32 percent from behind the arc against the Raptors, but the Magic forced turnovers and got easy baskets in the open floor. However, the Magic have a much better half-court offense than Philly, so a slower pace will not hinder Orlando if Detroit puts on the brakes.
Defensively, the Magic will rely on Howard to patrol the paint and hunt for blocked shots on every possession.
Detroit won a tougher-than-expected, six-game series with the Sixers, after struggling mightily in Games 1 and 3. The Pistons hope the malaise won't resurface now, one round deeper into the playoffs and against a better team. They struggled with Philly in a wide-open, full-court game, and the Sixers' athleticism and length forced Detroit into uncharacteristic turnovers and sloppy play. Once the Pistons got back to their surgical half-court attack, the Sixers had no answers.
The Pistons are a defensive team first and foremost, and when they turn up the defensive heat, their offense usually follows. They suffocated the Sixers' half-court offense, and look for them to try to slow the Magic down and surround Dwight Howard with much more size and shot-blocking potential than the Raptors could bring.
Detroit will slow the pace and run its precision offense, trying to wear down the Magic in a half-court slugfest.
Nelson: Nelson was a big key for the Magic against Toronto as he took on more of a scoring role, averaging 17.2 points on 51 percent shooting and hitting 11 of 22 from three. He will get ball-screen action on almost every possession, and he will look to create for himself and others off the dribble. He had a solid 10 points and four assists in the Magic's win over the Pistons on Feb. 19. He will match up with Chauncey Billups, who is stronger, so look for Nelson to use his quickness in a matchup of two point guards who can really score when needed. Nelson must focus on running his team and stay away from forcing the action, which can lead to turnovers.
Billups: Billups had some absolutely awful games in the Philadelphia series, with ugly missed shots, uncharacteristic turnovers and even more uncharacteristic missed free throws. He did, however, right the ship, playing well in Games 5 and 6: He scored 20 and 21 points, respectively, on 15-of-25 shooting from the floor and 6-of-11 from 3.
His distribution is a key to Detroit's half-court offensive timing, but he passed too readily in some situations that called for him to take the big shot against the Sixers early in the series.
Billups averaged 16.5 points on 46 percent shooting against the Magic this year, and Nelson's defense doesn't really give him much trouble. Look for Billups to step up his offensive aggressiveness when needed.
Evans: Evans has taken over the starting role from Keith Bogans, providing more length and athleticism to the starting lineup, although Bogans did play more minutes against the Raptors. Evans averaged 8.4 points and hit 8 of 20 from three, and he will spot up on Nelson's penetration and also run the floor and finish with dunks in transition.
Evans struggled in his first two games versus the Pistons this year -- posting four points and two points, respectively -- then had 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line in the Magic's Feb. 19 win. His role will be primarily defensive, as he and Bogans will perform tag-team duty on Richard Hamilton, as they chase him through a maze of screens.
Hamilton: Hamilton's relentless effort and energy kept the Pistons alive as they struggled against the Sixers, and he averaged 19.7 points on 47 percent shooting. He will see a combination of Maurice Evans and Keith Bogans defending him in the half-court. Both Sixers are bigger than Rip, but neither is as quick.
Hamilton will cut and flash through screens at a relentless pace throughout the game, go backdoor if overplayed and step out to shoot the three against bigger defenders.
He has torched the Magic for 21.7 points on 57 percent shooting during the regular season, including 32 points on 14-of-22 from the floor in the Pistons' Jan. 25 win. The Magic haven't found an answer to him yet, so look for the Pistons to try to get Rip going early.
Turkoglu: Turkoglu shot only 2-for-18 from 3 against the Raptors, but he still averaged 17.8 points per game by getting to the basket and looking to score in the post and mid-range against the Raptors' smaller defenders. He got to the free-throw line 34 times, making 31.
Turkoglu became the NBA's Most Improved Player by adding the ability to finish at the rim to an already potent perimeter-shooting attack. He also became a clutch scorer in end-of-game situations for the Magic, so he will be a go-to guy on game-tying or game-winning possessions.
He is a tough matchup for most teams, but the Pistons can bother him at different times in the game with a variety of good defenders with different styles: at times, Tayshaun Prince and his length; at others, Hamilton and his relentless peskiness.
Turkoglu averaged 19.5 points in four regular-season games against the Pistons, but he shot only 40 percent from the floor and 6-of-16 from 3. His ability to score consistently is a key for the Magic.
Prince: Prince absolutely slammed the door on Philly's Andre Iguodala in the first round, using his length and defensive craftiness to contest every move and shot. Prince also was Detroit's most consistent offensive player in the series, averaging 16.7 points on 65 percent shooting, and his 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting in Game 4 started the Pistons on their way to closing out the Sixers. He will back his defender down in the post or spot up and shoot the corner t3, and he's a terrific finisher in transition.
His defensive focus will now turn to limiting the scoring of Turkoglu -- especially getting out and contesting his 3-point shooting.
Prince averaged 13.5 points on 43 percent shooting in four games versus the Magic, but his defense of Turkoglu will be a determining factor in this series.
Lewis: Lewis was Orlando's second-leading scorer in the first round, averaging 19.0 points per game. Like Turkoglu, he struggled from the 3-point line, as he shot 25 percent on a team-leading 40 attempts. However, Lewis did not always settle for the 3-pointer against the Raptors, as he was able to post up and score inside as well.
Lewis has a small forward's game at the power forward spot, so he will look to take the Piston forwards out on the perimeter. He will see a combination of Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, Prince and maybe even Hamilton at times, and he will adjust his game accordingly.
Lewis averaged 17.5 points on 41 percent 3-point shooting against the Pistons in four regular-season games, including 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 4-of-4 from 3 in the Magic's win in Detroit on Feb. 19. His versatility provides another big offensive weapon for the Magic.
McDyess: McDyess suffered a broken nose against the Sixers, but he had double-figure scoring in two of Detroit's wins and provides size and mid-range shooting. He can post up Lewis or take Howard outside, so personnel and matchups will determine how he works on the offensive end.
He will split time guarding Lewis and Howard, and his aggressiveness while wearing the mask will be tested.
McDyess averaged 10.3 points on 37 percent shooting against Orlando in the regular season, including 10 points and 13 rebounds in the Pistons' win over the Magic on Jan. 25.
Howard: Howard was an absolute monster against the Raptors, averaging 22.6 points, 18.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots. Howard was dominant and intimidating, stationing himself in front of the rim for dunks and offensive rebounds against Toronto's soft front line.
He won't have such an easy time against Detroit's front line, which is bigger, tougher and more of a shot-blocking threat. The Pistons will foul hard and give no quarter. Look for Howard to continue his ball-screen action and then roll to the basket or into the post, as he is no threat to pick and pop. He dunked on everybody in the Raptor series, but he might have to use more of his face-up jumper in this series. Howard may feel like he is all by himself inside against the Pistons' front line, and his ability to weather any frustration will be a key.
The Pistons held him to 17.3 points and 10.8 rebounds in their four regular-season games. They will bring lots of big, athletic bodies to pound on and try to frustrate Howard. Howard faces the biggest test of his young career.
Wallace: Wallace is the barometer of this team: The Pistons fortunes rise and fall with Rasheed's focus and temperament. After a dismal two-point performance on 1-of-6 shooting versus the Sixers in Game 3, Wallace bounced back with 20 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4, and 19 points and six blocks in Game 5.
His battle with Howard in the post will be a major focus in this series. Wallace can avoid blocks with his high-trajectory post jumper, plus he can step out and hit the 3. This shooting threat pulls Howard -- who blocked only three shots in the Pistons' two regular-season wins -- away from the basket.
Wallace played well in both Pistons' wins over the Magic this year: 16 points with three blocks on Nov. 2 and 15 points on 7-8 shooting on Jan. 25. He also had 15 points, 15 rebounds and five steals in the Pistons' 102-100 loss on Jan. 21.
Expect Rasheed to rise to the challenge of playing against Howard in a battle to establish dominance in the post, and he will try to frustrate Howard in any way possible -- without frustrating himself.
Keith Bogans: Bogans splits time with Evans and brings a more physical defensive presence in guarding Richard Hamilton. He averaged 10.2 points versus the Raptors and had some of his best offensive games of the regular season against the Pistons, averaging 12.8 points on 15-of-23 shooting from the field and 12-of-14 from behind the arc. The Pistons need to pay more attention to him.
Keyon Dooling: Dooling brings more size and athleticism to the point guard spot. He averaged 7.6 points in 16 minutes per game against the Raptors and 8.0 points in 18 minutes versus the Pistons in four games.
Marcin Gortat: Gortat brought some toughness and more quickness to the backup center spot against Toronto.
Adonal Foyle: Foyle is a big body to spell Howard, but he might have to be Howard's body guard in this series.
Carlos Arroyo: Arroyo plays only spot minutes at the point.
Jason Maxiell: Maxiell provided much-needed energy to the lifeless Pistons against the Sixers in the first round with his rebounding and shot-blocking. He averaged 5.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in almost 30 minutes per game.
Maxiell averaged eight points and almost six rebounds against the Magic this year. He will help defend any of Orlando's forwards as well as Howard inside.
Jarvis Hayes: Hayes played in all six first-round games, but his minutes have shrunk in the playoffs. He provides shooting and athleticism, and he totaled 21 points on 6-of-18 shooting versus Philly.
Rodney Stuckey: Stuckey played nearly 19 minutes a game against the Sixers, averaging 5.2 points. He brings size and scoring to the backcourt. He had 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 8-of-9 free throws against the Magic in February.
Theo Ratliff: Ratliff may be called upon to use his fouls against Howard.
Arron Afflalo: Afflalo played 53 minutes in five games in the first round, totaling eight points.
The Pistons are a year older and have added some youth to their bench. The Magic are a year wiser and have added veteran scoring. This series is full of great matchups, scorers at every position and contrasting styles. The Magic will threaten and give the Pistons all they can handle in every game, but look for Detroit to survive and move on to the Eastern Finals once again.
Prediction: Detroit 4, Magic 3
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.