- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. Experience: The Pistons are in playing in their sixth straight Eastern Conference finals and are led by the same nucleus that helped capture the title in 2004. Boston, meanwhile, hasn’t reached this point since 2002. The level of comfort the Pistons have with each other helps them in pressure situations.

2. Road wins: An 0-6 road record in the first two rounds of the playoffs has forced the Celtics into consecutive seven-game series. The Pistons are 3-2 on the road this postseason. The ability to steal homecourt advantage will have a big impact on the outcome. Being able to win on the road translated into a week of rest for Detroit, while Boston had only a day between Game 7 against Cleveland and today’s conference finals opener.

3. Depth: If Boston isn’t getting contributions from every member of its Big Three, the Celtics will need other players to step up. But their supporting cast is rather weak at times. The Pistons don’t have as highly touted a star-studded trio as Boston, but they boast one of the deepest benches in the league, which could give them the edge.

KEY MATCHUPS

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS VS. RAJON RONDO

In Billups, Detroit boasts a bigger, savvy floor general capable of making big shots. Rondo, on the other hand, is a second-year player who has done a nice job complimenting Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but he has struggled against Billups, who averaged 22.7 points in three games against Boston this season.

TAYSHAUN PRINCE VS. PAUL PIERCE ”

In this series, Prince will draw the task of guarding Pierce, who went off for 41 points to lift the Celtics over Cleveland in Game 7 on Sunday. In their previous meetings this season, Prince used his length to cause trouble for Pierce and limited him to 15 points a game — well below his season average.

RASHEED WALLACE VS. KEVIN GARNETT

Garnett has gotten the best of Wallace in each of their three matchups this season, averaging 24.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists. The Celtics will need similar production to help combat the well-rounded Pistons. Wallace, however, will be charged with stifling KG and keeping him off the boards.

THE SKINNY

Detroit is fresher, more experienced and has better depth. The Celtics have homecourt advantage, but the Pistons have proved they can win on the road just as easily at home. Boston failed to win in Atlanta and Cleveland, and things won’t get easier in Detroit. Ray Allen has struggled to find his shot, meaning the Celtics’ Big Three have not be as effective as during the regular season. His Detroit counterpart, Richard Hamilton, has averaged 21.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists this postseason.

Pick: Pistons in 6.

Mike Jones