Friday , May , 20 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Miami vs. Detroit

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Miami vs. Detroit *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

MIAMI HEAT: 1st Seed, East (59-23)

DETROIT PISTONS: 2nd Seed, East (54-28)

(Sports Network) – The top two teams in the East will battle it out in a best-
of-seven series for the right to represent the conference in the NBA Finals,
as the top-seeded Miami Heat meet the defending world champion Detroit Pistons
in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Heat are appearing in their second conference finals in franchise history,
while the Pistons have made it this far in the postseason for the third
straight year.

This is the second time that the teams have met in the postseason. The Heat
swept the Pistons, 3-0, in the first round of the 2000 playoffs.

Miami, which owns the home-court advantage in this series, comes into this set
without a loss in this year’s playoffs. The Heat have won 11 straight games,
dating back to the regular season. Miami’s last loss was on April 15th at
Boston.

The Heat earned their first two sweeps in franchise history in a best-of-seven
series during rounds one and two, as they eliminated No. 8 New Jersey
in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Washington in the semifinals. They defeated
the Nets by a total margin of 51 points, and the Wizards by 36.

In the conference semifinals against the Wizards, the Heat won Games 3 and 4
at the MCI Center without All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal, who has been
bothered by a thigh contusion. O’Neal, who averaged 17.5 points and seven
rebounds in Games 1 and 2 against Washington, has rested the injury while
Miami waited for its opponent in the conference finals.

Shaq, who did play in all four games against the Nets in the opening round,
has averaged 18 points, 8.2 boards and 32.5 minutes of action in his six
playoff games for the Heat. The health of the 33-year-old center is a big key
to Miami’s success. His simple presence on the court makes all of his
teammates better, as he creates space and always is double-teamed which allows
the other Heat players to get better looks at the basket.

All-Star guard Dwyane Wade has shined in the playoffs for the Heat. Originally
selected out of Marquette by Miami in the first round (fifth overall) of the
2003 NBA Draft, Wade, who averaged 24.1 points, 5.2 boards and 6.8 helpers
during the regular season, leads the Heat in scoring (28.6 ppg) and assists
(8.4 apg) in this year’s playoffs. He has also pulled down 6.6 boards per game
in the postseason, and is playing just under 42 minutes per contest.

Wade has showed that he is capable of taking a team on his back and winning in
the postseason, as he led Miami to victories in Games 3 and 4 over Washington
without O’Neal. The Marquette product averaged 36.5 points, eight rebounds and
five assists in the two contests for the Heat.

The Heat’s other three starters Udonis Haslem, Eddie Jones and Damon Jones
have been excellent for Miami during their eight-game winning streak in the
playoffs. Haslem leads the club in rebounding (11.5 rpg) in the postseason,
while Eddie Jones is averaging 15.9 points and Damon Jones has netted 15.6 per
game.

Damon and Eddie Jones have knocked down clutch threes throughout the playoffs,
while Haslem, who has scored 9.6 points per contest in the playoffs, has
played tough defense, grabbed key boards and scored important baskets down
low.

Miami’s other appearance in the conference finals was in 1997. The Heat fell
in five games to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in that series. Miami
was an impressive 35-6 at home during the regular season and was a respectable
24-17 on the road.

The second-seeded Pistons, who defeated Shaq and the Lakers in five games in
the 2004 NBA Finals, have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals eight times
in franchise history. They played Boston in 1987 and 1988, Chicago in 1989,
1990 and 1991, New Jersey in 2003 and Indiana in 2004. Detroit is 4-3 in this
round.

In the opening round of this year’s playoffs, Detroit ousted the seventh-
seeded Philadelphia 76ers in five games. In the semis, the Pistons were able
to overcome a valiant effort by Reggie Miller and the sixth-seeded Pacers and
advance in six contests.

Guards Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, who was the 2004 NBA
Finals MVP, have led Detroit in scoring in the first two rounds. Hamilton
has averaged a team-best 19.9 points, while Billups has netted 18.7 per game.
The 28-year-old Billups has also dished out a team-high 7.0 assists in
the 11 playoff contests.

Forward Tayshaun Prince has been his usual self in the postseason. He is
playing tough defense and has been able to drain timely shots. The Kentucky
product has contributed 14.7 points and 7.8 boards during Detroit’s playoff
run.

All-Star center Ben Wallace, who won his third NBA Defensive Player of the
Year, and forward Rasheed Wallace have also been excellent for the defending
world champions. Ben Wallace is averaging 11.3 points and a team-high 12.5
rebounds, while Rasheed Wallace has posted 14.9 points and 7.7 boards per
contest.

Detroit was an impressive 32-9 as the host during the regular season, and was
22-19 on the road. The Pistons are 5-1 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in this
year’s playoffs, and are 3-2 as the visitor.

During the regular season, the Pistons won two of the three meetings between
the clubs. Detroit defeated the Heat on November 26th at The Palace and on
April 10th at AmericanAirlines Arena, while Miami beat the Pistons on December
30th on the road.

FRONTCOURT: The Wallaces and Prince have proved that they can win in the
playoffs. Ben Wallace has showed flashes of offensive skills in the first two
rounds, and has been his usual dominant self defensively.

Rasheed Wallace is a great complement to the other Wallace, as he can score
from the outside as well as the inside. Since becoming a member of the Pistons
late last season, he has become a solid defender and has adapted to Detroit’s
style. Prince, like Ben Wallace, excels defensively, and, like Rasheed
Wallace, can drain the outside jumper and is also able to drive to the hole
effectively.

Haslem and Eddie Jones, who also plays shooting guard, will lineup next to the
Heat’s superstar center, and once again will benefit from the attention Shaq
gets. They will get a lot of open looks at the basket and should be able to
use the space that O’Neal creates to drive to the hole and try and draw fouls
on the Detroit defenders. Haslem will accumulate a bunch of garbage points and
will hit the occasional 15-foot jumper, while Eddie Jones will score from the
outsider and won’t be afraid to drive to the hoop if given the room.

The Pistons did a great job on Shaq in last year’s NBA Finals. Detroit is a
very smart team and will figure out how to once again prevent O’Neal from
dominating. Even though the Heat have Shaq, the Pistons have a better all-
around frontcourt. Remember, the Heat’s center in not 100 percent healthy,
which will play into Detroit’s favor and could be a major factor as the
series goes on.

EDGE: DETROIT

BACKCOURT: Wade has been the NBA’s best player in the playoffs so far. He has
shown that he can win without Shaq, but that was against Washington. Wade will
have to work harder for his points against the Pistons. When he drives to the
hole there will be the Wallaces waiting for him, and they are not afraid to
lay down a hard foul.

Damon Jones is one of the best three-point shooters in the league. He has made
31-of-69 (44.9 percent) attempts from beyond the arc in the postseason. Like
Eddie Jones and Haslem, Damon Jones gets a lot of open looks and is capable of
scoring in bunches in a short amount of time.

Billups and Hamilton seem to shine in the postseason. Both are solid
defenders and can burn their opponents on the offensive end of the court.
Detroit’s backcourt is not spectacular, but they know how to get the job done.
Both players are not afraid to take the big shot in crunch time, and they are
also able to make the big stop when their opponent has a chance to take a lead
or to even win the game. This is one guard tandem that comes to play in the
playoffs.

Wade faces his toughest challenge, as Billups and Hamilton will take turns
defending him and will try to wear down Miami’s star guard with their
unrelenting defense. Wade will get his points and assists, but it won’t be
easy.

The 23-year-old Wade’s incredible play in the postseason makes this matchup a
draw.

EDGE: EVEN

BENCH: Guards Carlos Arroyo and Lindsey Hunter and forward Antonio McDyess
will get the minutes off the Detroit bench. Arroyo and Hunter are both capable
of running the point and can be paired with either Billups or Hamilton.

The 30-year-old McDyess is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in the
postseason. He has been Detroit’s first man off the bench and has been able to
provide the Pistons with an offensive spark.

Miami has solid bench. Thirty-five-year-old reserve center Alonzo Mourning,
forward Christian Laettner and guard Keyon Dooling will get the majority of
the minutes that the Miami starters don’t play. Mourning has averaged 7.8
points and 5.8 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action in the eight games.
He has played well in the middle and injected life into the Heat’s play on
both ends of the court.

Dooling has played well when called upon. He has averaged 8.1 points per game,
while Laettner has logged just under 13 minutes of action in seven playoff
appearances.

EDGE: EVEN

COACH: Stan Van Gundy, the brother of Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, had his
load lightened considerably when Pat Riley acquired Shaq from the Lakers last
offseason. He guided the Heat to the second round of the 2004 playoffs, as
they lost in six games to the Indiana Pacers. Stan Van Gundy is 14-7 all-time
in the postseason as Miami’s general.

Detroit’s Larry Brown is one of the best coaches in the history of the
NBA. Brown, who led Detroit to the title last year in his first season with
the franchise, is already a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of
Fame. He gets the most out of his team, and has been able to once again get
his squad to realize that they win games with defensive intensity and when
everyone is involved in the offense. Brown is unbelievable with the Xs and Os
of the game and he once again gives his team an advantage on the sidelines.

Stan Van Gundy is a great coach, but it is hard to give someone and edge
over a general who is already in the Hall of Fame.

EDGE: DETROIT

PREDICTION: Miami has had an unbelievable season. The Shaq and Wade experiment
is a success. However, sometimes a team has to lose to the best in this round
before it can take the next step. The Pistons’ experience and defense will
win this series.

DETROIT IN SIX

DET MIA