King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Pistons look like they have no answers for the Heat after a Game 1 loss. But don't be fooled.


Salon Staff
May 24, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

It's a hazard of this trade to look at some results -- part of a game, a whole game, a set of games, even a whole year's worth of games -- figure that what's been happening is going to keep happening, and make a pronouncement.

That's what's going on when Bill Walton says something like "the Phoenix Suns are in trouble" right before the Suns go on a 15-2 run. Past performance does not predict future results, as they say in the business pages. At least not in as straightforward a way as we in the commentariat would like.

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Because it would make life a lot easier to be able to look at the Miami Heat's 91-86 win over the Detroit Pistons on the road in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night and peck out, "The Detroit Pistons are in t-r-o-u-b-l-e."

The Pistons seemed to have no answer for Dwyane Wade in his brief moments on the floor. He had 25 points and five assists in 26 minutes when he wasn't sitting with foul trouble.

That's a 40-point game if he just manages to stop plowing into defenders every few minutes, and/or if the referees spin that big wheel they have in their dressing room before the game and the pointer lands on "let 'em play" rather than "call it like a Pac-10 game" or "breathing on opponent = foul."

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Shaquille O'Neal also battled foul trouble but managed 14 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes and looked fresh after a week's rest.

But most troubling for Detroit, it was the Heat's secondary players who made the difference. Jason Williams, Gary Payton and Antoine Walker all played so well that the Heat actually increased their lead with Wade and O'Neal both on the bench.

Alonzo Mourning turned in another yeoman performance in relief of Shaq with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes. In the playoffs, he's hit 15-of-19 from the field and is blocking a shot about every 11 minutes, roughly a league-leading rate over the course of a season.

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If the Pistons can't stop D-Wade and are having trouble with the likes of Williams, Walker and the Sunshine Boys, they're in trouble.

Except they're not.

Don't get me wrong. The Pistons could lose this series. They could get swept, though I'd have to get pretty long odds before I'd lay a nickel on that. The Heat are a very good team.

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But past performance does not predict future results. The Pistons are not going to get beat in this series by Jason Williams, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and Antoine Walker. Those guys, especially Walker, can all be effective to varying degrees, but the Heat can't expect them to carry the team. There's a reason they're role players.

The key for the Heat is still the play of Shaq and Wade. Wade is brilliant, and barring injury, there's no reason to believe Wade can't stay out of foul trouble and be a major problem for the Pistons all series long. But O'Neal only gets one game on a week's rest, and Tuesday night was it.

Shaq simply isn't the same player anymore on less than two days' rest. Games 2 through 6 in this series are scheduled for Thursday, Saturday, Monday and next Wednesday and Friday. Do the math.

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Also, I'm a believer that you live by shooting percentage, you die by shooting percentage.

And vice versa.

The Heat, with their famously rested legs and everything, shot the lights out Tuesday, while the Pistons couldn't hit the broad side of Shaquille O'Neal. Maybe the Detroiters were wrung out from the Cleveland series, maybe they underestimated the Heat, maybe the Heat played better defense than it looked like to me, or maybe the Pistons just had one of those nights.

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Whatever it was, while Miami was shooting a sizzling 56.2 percent, Detroit shot a really bad 37.8.

Wade hit 9-of-11 shots, Payton 6-of-8, Williams 5-of-7. That's just not going to continue. Neither will Rasheed Wallace's 3-for-10 or Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton's combined 15-for-41. That's 36.6 percent for a backcourt that shot 45.6 percent on the season.

The Pistons are in trouble the same way any other team down 1-0 in a series after one home game is in trouble. They're in trouble the same way any team with a tough opponent like Miami, with a great coach like Pat Riley, superstars like O'Neal and Wade and solid role players like Williams, Walker, Payton, Mourning and Udonis Haslem is in trouble.

But Game 1 was too flukey to use as the basis for pronouncements that won't end up sounding as silly as when the Big Redhead proclaims that some second-quarter pass that the recipient has trouble handling is "the worst pass in the history of the NBA."

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Game 2 is Thursday. Let's see how the shots fall.

Previous column: Nowitzki!

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