Tuesday , May , 23 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Pistons welcome Heat to The Palace for Game 1 of East finals

(Sports Network) – The top-seeded Detroit Pistons try to advance to the NBA
Finals for the third straight year, as they face the second-seeded Miami Heat
in the Eastern Conference Finals.

This is a rematch of last year’s conference finals. Detroit came back from a
3-2 deficit to knock off Miami in seven games. The Pistons won Game 7, 88-82,
on the road.

The Pistons own the home-court advantage in this best-of-seven series.

These clubs will be meeting for the third time overall in the postseason. The
Heat swept the Pistons, 3-0, in the first round of the 2000 playoffs.

Detroit, which knocked off the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games
during the opening round of the playoffs, survived a big scare from No. 4
Cleveland in the conference semifinals. The Pistons fought back from a 3-2
deficit and eventually defeated LeBron James and the Cavaliers in seven tough
contests.

Starting guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, who was Detroit’s top
scorer (20.1 ppg) during the regular season, have led the Pistons in scoring
in the postseason. Hamilton leads the team with 20.3 points per game, while
Billups has registered 17.9 points and a club-best 6.2 assists per contest.

Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace has pulled down a team-high 11.0
rebounds per game in the playoffs, while Rasheed Wallace has contributed 15.8
points and 6.3 boards. Tayshaun Prince has also done his part in the
postseason, averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Detroit, which lost to San Antonio in seven games in the 2005 NBA Finals, is
6-1 at home and 2-3 on the road in this year’s playoffs.

The Pistons, who defeated Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers in five games in the
2004 NBA Finals, have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals nine times in
franchise history. They played Boston in 1987 and 1988, Chicago in 1989, 1990
and 1991, New Jersey in 2003, Indiana in 2004 and Miami last year. Detroit is
5-3 in this round.

Detroit, which is in the playoffs for the fifth straight season, captured the
Central Division and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs because of
its franchise-best 64 victories during the regular season.

The Heat are appearing in the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in
franchise history. They lost in seven games to Detroit last year and were
ousted in five by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1997.

Miami’s road to the East finals started with a six-game series victory over
the seventh-seeded Bulls. In the conference semifinals, the Heat bounced back
from a loss at home in Game 1 to No. 3 New Jersey and eliminated Jason Kidd
and the Nets in five contests.

All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Shaq have been the leaders so far in the postseason
for Miami. Wade leads the club in scoring (26.0 ppg) and assists (6.9 apg),
while O’Neal is averaging 19.3 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds per game.

This is the second time that Wade and Shaq, who has won three championships
and has appeared in a total of five NBA Finals during his career, will try to
get the Heat over the hump together. O’Neal was acquired by the Heat from the
Lakers for Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom and a future first-round
draft pick in July 2004, while Wade was selected out of Marquette by Miami in
the first round (fifth overall) of the 2003 NBA Draft.

Miami’s two All-Stars love the spotlight of the playoffs. Shaq has played 182
postseason games and has career-averages of 26.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.2
blocks. Wade has participated in 38 playoff contests during his three-year
career, and has accumulated averages 23.8 points, 5.0 boards and 6.4 assists.

Veteran Antoine Walker, who completed his first campaign with Miami, has had a
solid postseason for the Heat. The Kentucky product is averaging 14.3 points
and 5.7 boards. He has knocked down over 35 percent of his attempts from
beyond the arc and has drained some clutch shots down the stretch.

Forward Udonis Haslem, guards Gary Payton and Jason Williams and swingman
James Posey have also been big factors in getting the Heat to the conference
finals, while reserve center Alonzo Mourning has filled his role backing up
Shaq.

The Heat are 5-1 at home and 3-2 as the visitor in this year’s postseason.

During the regular season, the Pistons won three of four meetings between the
squads. Detroit won a pair at The Palace of Auburn Hills, while the clubs
split two contests in Miami.

DET MIA