Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Today's conference semifinal openers



By The Associated Press

Eastern: Detroit (50-32, 4-3) vs. Philadelphia (48-34, 4-2)

Season series: Tied, 2-2, with each team winning once on the other's home court. In one meeting, Ben Wallace had nine blocks as Detroit won by 28. In another, Allen Iverson fouled out for the first time in more than three years.

Storyline: The Pistons had to win the final three games of the first round against Orlando to advance, while the 76ers got past New Orleans in six games. Both teams rely heavily on defense.

Key matchup I: Chauncey Billups vs. Eric Snow. The Pistons' point guard capped a great series by scoring 37 points in Game 7 against Orlando, but he'll now go up against one of the top defensive point guards in the East. Both players are superb free throw shooters, with Billups the better all-around shooter and scorer.

Key matchup II: Richard Hamilton vs. Iverson. It's no secret where the 76ers expect to get much of their offense, and it's no secret either that the player assigned to guard him, Hamilton, is not a highly regarded defender. Working in the Pistons' favor is their second line of defense - the shot-blocking Wallace.

X factor: The Pistons couldn't find a way to stop another great scorer, Tracy McGrady, before turning to seldom-used rookie Tayshaun Prince, whose contributions on offense and defense helped Detroit advance.

Little Known Fact: This will be the first-ever postseason meeting between the franchises.

Prediction: 76ers in 6.

Western: Sacramento (59-23, 4-1) vs. Dallas (60-22, 4-3)

Season series: Kings won, 3-1, with the Mavericks winning the final matchup 129-123 in overtime to snap a six-game losing streak against Sacramento. The Kings defeated Dallas 4-1 in last year's playoffs.

Storyline: The Mavs' defense was so shoddy in last year's playoff series that Dallas owner Mark Cuban hung a banner at the team's practice facility. It notes that of Sacramento's 207 field goals, there were "115 LAYUPS AND DUNKS!"

Key matchup I: Chris Webber vs. Dirk Nowitzki. Two of the best power forwards in the game have completely different games, with Nowitzki preferring to do more of his scoring from the outside. Sacramento will look to pound the ball inside to Webber, who will have an advantage against the defensively challenged Nowitzki.

Key matchup II: Mike Bibby vs. Steve Nash. The backup point guard for Team USA vs. the starter for Team Canada. Both players have similar games, and rely on quickness, deft passing ability and fearlessness. The matchup of the backup point guards - Bobby Jackson vs. Nick Van Exel - matches a pair of similar streaky scorers.

X factor: Dallas coach Don Nelson insisted publicly all season that Sacramento was the better team, despite the Mavericks' better record.

Little Known Fact: The worst loss in Mavericks history happened Dec. 29, 1992, when the Kings defeated them by 58 points, 139-81, in Sacramento.

Prediction: Kings in 4.




REDS
Reds 5, Cards 4
Utility man Branyan on cusp of activation
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MORE BASEBALL
NL: Miller's time finally comes
AL: Detroit wheels out first winning streak
Cubs' Alfonseca back, but won't close at first

BENGALS
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Team releases two tackles

AUTO RACING
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PREP SPORTS
McNick's Doerger will not return
Kings gets new hoops coach
Monday's Results
Today's Games

COLLEGE SPORTS
Eustachy leaves Cyclones after reaching settlement
Proposed rule changes get lukewarm reception

NBA
Shaq fouls out as Spurs get the jump
Today's conference semifinal openers
Iverson must find answer for Pistons' star Wallace

NHL
Red Wings say so long to Robitaille
Senators eliminate Flyers 5-1

PLAN YOUR DAY
Tuesday's sports on TV, radio