Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons prepare to begin playoffs

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons are gearing up to face each other Sunday in the first round of the 2016 NBA playoffs.  The two teams will face off in the post season for the first time since the Cavaliers swept the Pistons in 2009, which was also the last time Detroit made the playoffs. 

The Pistons won three of the four meetings between these Central Division rivals during the regular season.  Cleveland sits at the top spot in the East, entering the post season with a record of 57 and 25, while Detroit, with a regular season record of 44 and 38, looks to make the rare upset, sitting in the eighth and final seed of the Eastern playoff seeding.

Previous meetings

The Pistons won the early season matchup between these two teams in November, 104 to 99.  Both teams had five players score double digits, but the Pistons managed to come out on top behind Andre Drummond's 25 and 18 rebounds.  Reggie Jackson added 23 points and 12 assists and Erson Ilyasova, who is no longer with the team, scored 20 points.  The Cavaliers were led by LeBron James, who scored 30 in the loss. 

The Cavaliers managed to pull out their only regular season win against Detroit in the second meeting.  Strong efforts from Kevin Love, who had 29 points, and Kyrie Irving, who scored 28 points and did not play in the first meeting between these two teams, led the Cavaliers to a 114-106 win.  James added 20 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists for Cleveland.  The Pistons had a balanced scoring effort, as six players scored double digits, but were unable to pull out a win at home. 

Detroit was able to notch a massive 96 to 88 win on the road in the third meeting between these teams in a late February matchup.  This game featured trade deadline acquisitions by both teams, including Tobias Harris for the Pistons and Channing Frye for the Cavaliers.  The Pistons were led by Jackson, who scored 23 points, and Drummond, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds in the Detroit win. Irving and Love scored 30 and 24 respectively, but James who had 12 points on five for 18 shooting, and the rest of the teamed struggled to score.

The final meeting between these teams occurred in the final regular season game of the season, as Detroit pulled out a narrow 112 to 110 win in overtime.  Both teams rested key players in this game.  James, Irving, Love, and J.R. Smith rested for the Cavaliers. Drummond, Jackson, Harris, Marcus Morris, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sat for the Pistons.  Jodie Meeks returned to the court for Detroit, leading them with 20 points in the win. 

LeBron James shoots over Marcus Morris. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)
LeBron James shoots over Marcus Morris. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)

Keys to series

An important factor for the Pistons in this series is the play of the first-time all-star Drummond.  The big man led the league in rebounds with 14.8 a game, and upped his scoring average to a career high 16 points a game.  Drummond dominated the Cavaliers down low in Detroit’s wins.  Cleveland’s coach, Tyronn Lue, has noted that Tristan Thompson will be starting at the center spot, as the Cavaliers have struggled to find a fit at the position.  Thompson started 34 games for Cleveland this season. 

Other key matchups include the point guard and small forward positions.  The battle of scoring point guards, Jackson and Irving, will be instrumental in gaining an edge for both teams. In relatively even battles between the two during the regular season, it will be interesting to see what unfolds in the upcoming matchups.  Additionally, the small forward battle between Harris and James is one to look out for.  James has upped his game in the final weeks of the season and is looking to take over the playoffs, as he often does. Harris, being one of the young and upcoming talents in the league, will look to handle James with confidence, which he has done well in his young career.

Game one will air on ABC, Sunday at 3 p.m.