King Kaufman's Sports Daily

With Wade hurting, the Heat need a miracle to knock off the Pistons. Plus: "Cinderella Man" author reviews the movie.

Published June 6, 2005 7:00PM (EDT)

The Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons have come down to a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night in Florida, and I couldn't be in a better position to be both right and wrong in predicting the outcome.

At the start of the "season," I picked the Pistons to win the Eastern Conference. At the start of the real season, the playoffs, I picked the Heat to win the Eastern Conference.

At the start of this series, I stayed with the Heat because that seemed like the right thing to do with my "official" pick. The Eastern Conference playoffs had gone exactly as I'd prognosticated -- I'm not bragging; the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs are highly predictable -- so it seemed wrong to switch in midstream.

But really I thought the Pistons could win, and said so.

And so, whatever happens Monday night, I'll be able to say, "See? Told you." The whole point of this business is to be able to say, "See? Told you," even if you haven't, and even if you've also told them the exact opposite.

It's a good business.

So for the Heat to prove me right -- or wrong, depending on your point of view -- they're going to need a hell of a game from Shaquille O'Neal. The problem with that is that Shaq was last seen being praised to the heavens for a good but hardly Shaq-like 24-point, 13-rebound outing in Game 6, in which the Heat got blasted 91-66.

That's the sort of game that will do when Dwyane Wade is going bananas, such as Game 2, when O'Neal had 17 and 10 and Wade poured in 40 points. The Heat won by six.

It'll do even when Wade is merely human as long as everything else breaks right. That happened in Game 5, when O'Neal had 20 and five and Wade only had 15 points and four assists before leaving with an injury. But the Heat won because Udonis Haslem and Damon Jones played about as well as they ever play, and Rasual Butler had his best game of the playoffs by far, and the Pistons played lousy.

Bad bet to think that's all going to happen again, especially that last thing, so the Heat's best hope is for Dwyane Wade to go bananas.

The problem with that is that Wade might not play.

Well, he'll play. If he has to be wheeled out to center court he'll play. But he's got a bad injury, a strained muscle in his rib cage, which is the kind of thing that takes months to heal, not days. If Wade has even a halfway decent game, a run-of-the-mill OK game, it'll be a heroic performance for the ages.

And it won't be enough.

So what I'm saying is that the Heat need something like a miracle. They need the Pistons, the defending champions, who have won nine straight games in which a win would eliminate their opponent from the playoffs, to have an off-night.

They need Shaq to overcome his thigh injury and his age and the fact that he rarely has huge playoff games after single off-days to have a huge playoff game. They need Wade to fight through an immobilizing injury to have a game that will still be on highlight reels in 50 years.

Miami is the home team, and the Heat and their fans are wrapping themselves in the fact that home teams are 74-16 all-time in NBA seventh games. That's an impressive stat, but those 74 winners didn't have a hobbled Shaquille O'Neal and a nearly incapacitated Dwyane Wade. They weren't playing the '05 Pistons, who haven't been beaten with money on the table in two years.

Like everyone else, except maybe the Pistons, I would have loved to see this series go to the wire with a healthy Dwyane Wade. I don't think they would have had enough to win it, but they might have, and it certainly wouldn't have taken a miracle. Now, it will.

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Cinderella fan [PERMALINK]

Just because I thought it would be interesting, I asked Jeremy Schaap, author of "Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History," what he thought of the movie "Cinderella Man," which has no connection to his book.

Here's his response, sent by e-mail:

"A beautifully told Depression-era tale, highlighted by the performances of Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti. The movie truly captures the spirit of the Braddock story.

"At times it takes small liberties with the chronology, and Max Baer is conveniently villainous, but Crowe and Giamatti are so compelling, and convincing, that I found myself thoroughly enjoying it."

On reading my less-flattering review, Schaap wrote back, "Understand your sentiments, though you're clearly not a sentimentalist ..."

Maybe not, though it gets me where I live every year when I hear Harry Bailey say, "A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town."

I don't think you have to be a sentimentalist to enjoy "Cinderella Man," either. Though I was disappointed with the movie's clichéd characters, I agree with Schaap's sentiments: Crowe and Giamatti are worth the price of admission, or at least the price of a rental in a few months.

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