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Detroit, Dallas play second-round openers

  |   May 6, 2003 at 1:30 PM
DETROIT, May 6 (UPI) -- In the NBA playoffs, Detroit and Dallas host their second-round playoff openers on Tuesday night.

The Pistons, top-seeded in the East, became the seventh team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series Sunday against Orlando. They will face the Philadelphia 76ers in an Eastern Conference semifinal series beginning Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups grabbed the spotlight from more-heralded Orlando superstar Tracy McGrady, scoring 40 points in Game Six, and 37 in Game Seven to spearhead the comeback.

The Mavericks were in danger of becoming the first team to lose a series after winning the first three games, but averted disaster with a 107-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday in Game Seven.

Now Dallas will meet the second-seeded Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight year starting Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.

Dallas has the home-court advantage despite being the third-seeded team in the West. The Mavericks finished the regular season with 60 victories, one more than Sacramento, but since the Kings won a division title, they are the higher seed.

The Mavericks have practiced all season under a banner pointing out the defensive breakdowns that caused them to lose last year's series to Sacramento, 4-1. According to the sign, the Kings made 207 field goals in the series with "115 layups and dunks."

"We've looked at that banner all year, and now we have a chance to do something about it," said Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had 31 points in the Game Seven win over the Trail Blazers.

The Mavericks made numerous defensive lapses in the series against Portland, and may not be ready to handle the Kings, who averaged 120 points in winning three of four regular season meetings from Dallas this season.

"They like to play the same way we do -- up and down the floor," said Kings forward Peja Stojakovic. "But we think we've improved our defense, and I'm sure they think they've improved on defense as well. But it should be a fun series."

Slowing Kings power forward Chris Webber, point guard Mike Bibby, and Stojakovic will be a tall order for the Mavs.

"We've made (defensive) strides," said Dallas Coach Don Nelson. "We're not the best defensive team in the league by any means, but we're a lot better than we were."

Defense is the strong suit of the Pistons, who will contend with 76ers superstar Allen Iverson after dealing with McGrady.

Iverson averaged 34.8 points, including a 55-point performance in Philadelphia's 4-2 series victory over New Orleans in the conference quarterfinals.

In four regular season games against the Pistons, Iverson averaged just 22.0 points on 40 percent shooting.

"The biggest key to controlling him (Iverson) is keeping him off the free throw line, and keeping him from getting transition baskets," said Pistons swingman Michael Curry.

Detroit Coach Rick Carlisle probably will rotate Curry, Billups, Richard Hamilton, Chucky Atkins, and Tayshaun Prince on Iverson. Detroit also can has two-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace be waiting in the wings.

"No. 3 (Wallace) makes it difficult for anyone who drives to the hole," said Pistons guard Jon Barry.

McGrady averaged 31.7 points in the series against Detroit, but was held to 21 points on 7-of-24 shooting in Game Seven.

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