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Preview of Eastern Conference Finals
Sixers, Bucks 'Role' On
By Chris Ford

Three Things for the Bucks:
Continue to ride the wave of confidence
Must push the ball and play their high paced tempo. Strive to hit the 100-point mark on the road.
Role players like Ervin Johnson, Scott Williams, Darvin Ham and Jason Caffey must continue to make contributions on both ends

Three Things for the Sixers:
Iverson shows why he was this year's MVP:
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Must spring Allen Iverson free from double-teams so he can continue to carry the scoring load
Need offensive contributions from role players like Aaron McKie, Eric Snow and Tyrone Hill
Jumaine Jones needs to step up on both ends, especially on the defensive end against Glenn Robinson

Key Matchup:
The key matchup in this series will be between Iverson and the Milwaukee Bucks defense, primarily Sam Cassell but also Lindsey Hunter and Ray Allen. The Bucks saw from the Philadelphia-Toronto series that you need to throw bodies at Iverson and force him to take quick shots with tough looks at the basket. Iverson is hobbled by an assortment of injuries, as is Cassell, but both have continued to play through them. The fact that Milwaukee has three bodies is certainly a plus, but Iverson is never easy to stop, and they will need all three of them.

On the other end of the floor, Cassell was slowed due to bruised ribs, but was able to suit up and play with a flak jacket on. He played through the pain and played a spectacular Game 6 as he totaled 33 points (11-16 FG) and 11 assists. He is the one player that really makes the Bucks go, so Iverson will get a workout of the defensive end as well.

Bucks Strategy:
The Bucks are a team that can put points up on the board, and when they total over 100 points they can beat anybody in the league. Their three scorers really busted out in Games 6 and 7 against Charlotte when a serious threat of elimination was in the air. The trio of Cassell, Allen and Robinson came out and combined for 85 points in Game 6 and 74 points in Game 7. Robinson busted out of his shooting slump with 29 points in both contests and shot over 50 percent from the field. Robinson finally is getting some credit he deserves and has come on and played some great basketball during these last few games.

Big Three
The Big Three are the "Big Keys" for the Bucks:
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As a team, the Bucks are playing with tremendous confidence right now. Much like Philly, they have some role players who can really get the job done. George Karl called Johnson the team's MVP during these playoffs, and he played great defense against Charlotte's front line and led the Hornets in rebounding (12.1 rpg) and blocked shots (2.86 bpg) during the series. Williams found his scoring touch and averaged 8.9 ppg and 7.0 rpg, a definite plus.

The Bucks work from the outside-in. Allen, Robinson, Cassell, Hunter and Tim Thomas lead the offensive assault from the outside. The bulk of Milwaukee's points will come from these guys. Anything they get from their inside players like Williams and Johnson is a bonus.

Sixers Strategy:
The Sixers continue to play great defense and will try getting out in transition and scoring easy baskets. Iverson is one of the most electrifying players in the NBA and can go off for 50-plus points when necessary, and pulled the trick twice against Toronto. Milwaukee is not the best defensive team in the league, but the Sixers' roster is thin and they will certainly need more offense than just Iverson.

Iverson was cold from the floor in Game 7 against Toronto, and the role players really stepped up big and provided a lift. It was a total team effort, as Iverson registered 21 points and a career-high 16 assists and the role players like Jumaine Jones and McKie contributed by knocking down key shots throughout the course of the game.

Poised for a Big Series:
Philadelphia's roster has been severely depleted since the start of the playoffs, as George Lynch and Matt Geiger are out for the remainder of the playoffs due to injury. For all intents and purposes, Larry Brown has shortened his bench to six key players, and has inserted McKie, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, into the starting lineup for Snow. McKie responded well, and he will need to keep up that production if the Sixers are to advance.

Milwaukee has the edge in the depth department and can come at you in waves. Thomas and Hunter are two guys off the bench that can bring offense to the table, while Johnson, Williams and Caffey bring energy and do the little things that help the Bucks win. These players know their team has scorers, and are comfortable playing their roles. The fact that they have more of them at this point of the season helps the Bucks tremendously.

Intriguing Subplots:
The Sixers have the home-court advantage, which is very important as both teams realized coming down to that seventh game during the last round. Philly and Milwaukee were both fortunate to have the decisive games in their own buildings. That's a big advantage, and that's what you play for throughout the entire regular season.

Though the teams split the regular season series, each team was able to win one on the opponent's home court. Now with Milwaukee possessing a high level of confidence, a high-powered offense and an Eastern Conference-high 39 wins when scoring over 100 points, the home-court advantage may go out the window entirely in this series.

The Sixers keep battling despite injuries, but these playoffs have showed they are a banged-up team. Iverson really gutted it out in Game 7, but the Sixers seemingly get more fragile as these series go along. Losing Lynch certainly hurts, but the Sixers keep finding ways to win. Dikembe Mutombo will be a key in this series as he attacks the boards and scores on second-chance opportunities. But since the Bucks are mainly a jump shooting team, he will be neutralized is as the big dominating presence in the paint.

Overall, this is a classic offense vs. defense series, but the difference could be on the offensive side of the ball. Milwaukee possesses three big scorers who are nearly impossible to stop all at once, while Philly has just one and rely on the role players to step up and bring offense. For that reason, I like the Bucks in the long run. Milwaukee is a really tough team to shut out and keep down offensively, especially when you are dealing with three weapons. They just keep coming after you for 48 minutes.

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