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Prince of The Palace A seldom-used rookie is a key to the Pistons' fortunes

For the Detroit Pistons, when 6'9" rookie forward Tayshaun Prince
came off the end of the bench to score a career-high 20 points
in a Game 7 first-round win over the Orlando Magic, it was the
equivalent of putting on a pair of jeans and discovering $20 in
the pocket. But by the end of their second-round victory over the
Philadelphia 76ers, the Pistons were counting on a windfall every
time they turned to Prince--and more often than not, he

Such reliance on an inexperienced player can be dangerous,
however, and it came back to haunt Detroit on Sunday in Game 1 of
the Eastern Conference finals, a 76-74 loss to the New Jersey
Nets at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Prince played 36 minutes but
contributed only seven points on 2-for-10 shooting, including
five straight misses in the fourth quarter. That the Pistons kept
going back to him despite his struggles underscored how much they
need someone other than guards Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton
to score. Whether Prince will succeed in that role, or whether
New Jersey can neutralize him, may well determine which team
reaches the Finals.

The Nets knew before the series started that Prince posed a
unique challenge. Though he's a slight 215 pounds--his jersey
looks as if it were draped on a clothes hanger--Prince has a
7-foot wingspan, three-point range, a variety of canny moves
around the basket and the ability to handle the ball like a point
guard. After being taken 23rd in the draft out of Kentucky, he
averaged only 3.3 points in the regular season and didn't even
get off the bench in 40 of Detroit's 82 games. But in the
playoffs he has been the Prince of The Palace. He averaged 13.0
points against the 76ers, icing a 104-97 Game 2 victory with
seven straight points at the end of regulation and in overtime.
He also guarded everyone from 6'10" Keith Van Horn to 6-foot
Allen Iverson. "One thing you never have to question about
Tayshaun: He believes in what he can do," says Pistons forward
Clifford Robinson. "He's been like that all year."

Before Sunday's tip-off, New Jersey guard Kerry Kittles laid out
the team's Tayshaun Principles. "Be physical with him and
remember he's a rookie," he said. "Make him catch the ball
farther out on the wing and force him to his right so he can't
get that middle post-up he likes." The Nets were also quick to
help when Prince methodically backed in (something Philadelphia
hadn't done), and during the fourth quarter they sicced forward
Kenyon Martin on him. The stronger Martin leaned on Prince and
twice during the game violently swatted his soft floaters,
sternly warning after the first block that "this is a f---ing
man's game!"

Afterward a glum Prince declined to credit the New Jersey
defense. "I had good looks at the basket," he said. "They just
didn't go down." A few lockers down Billups concurred. "He missed
some shots today, but he'll make those next time," he said.
Considering how much Detroit needs Prince, it sounded less like a
prediction than a plea. --Chris Ballard

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN DEPOSED Prince's reign as playoff hero was halted by LuciousHarris and the Nets in Game 1.