"This was just one of those nights where the ball didn't go in," Heat guard Dwyane Wade told reporters Monday after the Pistons defense bottled him up in Detroit's Game 1 win in Miami. "It was just my mind-state more than them just totally shutting me down."
If you say so, Dwyane.
Wade hoisted 25 shots Monday. Seven of them went in. He had 16 points and four assists. In the first eight games of the playoffs, when the Heat went 8-0 against the Nets and Wizards, Wade averaged 28.6 points and 8.4 assists. The only time he was held under 20 points, he had 10 assists. The only time he was held under six assists, he had 42 points.
But I'm not saying anything you don't know when I say that the Pistons are not the Nets or the Wizards. Not hardly.
The Pistons are probably a little bit underappreciated, though the team's players and fans both vastly overstate the whole "nobody respects the Pistons" thing.
Everyone respects the Pistons. There is no dominant team in the NBA right now, but they have been on the very short list of Teams to Beat for the Title since Halloween. Even your humble typist, whose in box is filled with scolding from Pistons fans for my shabby treatment of their boys, picked the Pistons as Eastern Conference champs in November.
I think a lot of us are guilty of what Wade was guilty of Monday. The Pistons just don't look like what great NBA teams have looked like for a long time, so we think they're not a great NBA team. Wade thinks the Pistons didn't shut him down, he just had one of those nights.
Oddly, he's had one of those nights three times in four games against Detroit this season. In November he scored 17 on 6-of-17 shooting with six assists. In April he fouled out after 21 minutes, scoring five on 1-for-6 shooting with one assist.
In between, in December, he dropped 31 points and 10 assists on the Pistons, shooting 12-for-18. Did the Pistons' great defense just have one of those nights? No, Dwyane Wade is a great player. That's how it works. Greatness on one side makes the other side look bad.
And that's why we should keep watching this series, because Wade will have his nights, even against the Pistons. With Shaquille O'Neal slowed by his thigh injury, I don't think it'll be enough, but I wouldn't want to miss the excitement.
What a great NBA team has looked like for a long time is a bunch of decent players surrounding one or two superstars. Before the Pistons won the championship last year, you have to go back to the 1979 Seattle SuperSonics to find an NBA champ without at least one transcendent, for-the-ages type player.
The Pistons don't have that guy. You look in vain for Tim Duncan, for Shaq-and-Kobe, Jordan, Hakeem, Magic, Bird, Isiah, Dr. J-and-Moses. What the Pistons have is a busload full of guys a level or so down from that, which is still pretty damn good.
This really dawned on me as I watched the Dallas Mavericks implode in the last two games of their six-game series loss to the Phoenix Suns in the last round. The Mavs outplayed the Suns for long stretches of both games, but both times had second-half meltdowns from which they couldn't recover.
Those meltdowns were more than just the Suns playing well, though that was certainly happening. The Mavs' problem was that they didn't have that one guy who could put the team on his shoulders and carry it through the rough spot.
Dirk Nowitzki is a great scorer, but he's not that guy. He plays too soft, and he showed twice in the Suns series -- when he trashed Eric Dampier to the media after Game 1 and when he screamed at Jason Terry on the court in Game 6 -- that he's no leader.
The dirty shame for the Mavs was that in those moments, the guy they really missed was Steve Nash.
Like I said, the Pistons don't have that one guy either. But here's their secret: While no one can always be counted on to pull the team out of danger, everyone in the starting lineup is capable of doing it at one time or another.
If the Heat are in trouble, they look to Wade or O'Neal, but with O'Neal ailing, if Wade's having one of those nights, the Heat are cooked. If the Pistons are in trouble, they can look for Rip Hamilton, but if he's having one of those nights, there's Rasheed Wallace. Or Chauncey Billups. Or Tayshaun Prince or Ben Wallace.
This works on defense too. They look to Ben Wallace, but any of those guys can get that big stop.
I don't think the Pistons are going to send anybody but their coach to the Hall of Fame. They just send a lot of opponents down the road to one of those nights.
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The mystery of the backstretch [PERMALINK]
NBC's Preakness Stakes coverage Saturday didn't offer the blimp shot that had been so amazing and informative during the Kentucky Derby broadcast, but the network did a good job covering the race's singular moment, Afleet Alex's near fall at the top of the stretch.
The sentimental and betting favorite clipped heels with Scrappy T, who had swerved in front of him, but recovered and roared down the stretch for the win.
NBC wasted no time going to three terrific replay angles of the incident, intercut with a live shot of the stewards reviewing the tape and an immediate interview with winning jockey Jeremy Rose.
The network also talked to Scrappy T's jockey, Ramon Dominguez, and had a great replay of the Afleet Alex owner's box. Trainer Tim Ritchey, in the foreground of the shot, said, "Son of a bitch!" at the moment of impact, then a quick, unsteady "Go, Alex," and then, within a second or two, a self-assured "Still gonna win."
So having said all that, here's my question: Can't NBC, or anyone else who covers horse racing, spare a camera for the backstretch?
If NBC can get us that phenomenal blimp shot -- wind conditions willing, which they apparently weren't Saturday -- and if the network has enough cameras to show us three separate close-up angles of the turn for home in addition to all the other stuff it covered, why can't it get us a better shot of the meat of a race?
It's the equivalent of a television network covering the second and third quarters of a basketball game with a hand-held camera in the worst seat in the arena.
I realize I'm not an expert on horseflesh, but I can't be the only viewer to whom one horse and jockey looks more or less like another when seen through a telephoto lens from a thousand feet away.
For almost half of any race, the horses are inching along in a subtly shifting clump, and we have to rely on an on-screen graphic to tell us who's in first through fourth place, plus the track announcer's call.
We tell ourselves we're watching the race at that point, but if you close your eyes and just listen to the announcer, you lose almost nothing. Even when the announcer says, "So-and-so is making a move along the rail!" I struggle to see it and usually fail.
When I was a kid I had some tapes of classic radio broadcasts. One of them was the call of Whirlaway winning the 1941 Kentucky Derby. Innovations in the art and science of broadcasting have improved coverage of horse racing a thousandfold in the 64 years since that race. Except on the backstretch.
NBC has spent two days refusing to return phone calls on this pedestrian matter. I'll keep trying to find an answer to the mystery of the backstretch before the Belmont Stakes.
Previous column: Steve Nash, Bill Walton
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