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Detroit Pistons vs Miami Heat

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

(2) MIAMI HEAT

Thus far Miami has averaged 101.6 PPG. That’s the good news. The bad news is that their opponents have knocked down 97.1 PPG. Miami has a great inside game led by Shaquille O’Neal, Udonis Haslem and Antoine Walker, who together average 35 PPG and 23 RPG.

For Miami the first game of the Eastern Conference series may be the roughest. Why should that be the case? This team is rested. True. But it’s been seven days since they played! Fatigue on Detroit’s part versus lethargy in Miami’s case. Last year before meeting the Pistons in the conference final the Heat had eight days off. They lost game one and the series in seven. However, if they let game one get away this time, it will not define the series. If anything, Miami is motivated to prove that last year is behind them and this post-season is theirs.

At center, O’Neal brings his vast talent, playoff experience and will to win to the court and his team. He’s leading the Heat in rebounds, with an average of 9.2 per game. This is a big team that rebounds well at both ends of the court. Haslem has grabbed 8.2 per contest and three other players have averaged five of more rebounds each game.

If Detroit looks good on shooting, Miami looks better. Five players are in double figures and four of their bench players are good for an average of 24 PPG, with James Posey at 8.6, Gary Payton at 7.3, Alonzo Mourning at 4.3 and Derek Anderson at 4.0.

The young, mature man controlling the court for Miami is 24 year-old Dwayne Wade. Wade, who has just finished his third NBA season, leads his team in scoring (26.0 PPG), assists (6.9 APG) and minutes played (41.5 MPG). Durable, fast, and smart, he can cause havoc on defense. He’s first on the club in steals (2.18 STPG) and tied with O’Neal in turnovers (3.6 TOPG). On Detroit, the only player to rival Wade is Chauncey Billups. Billups has only bested the Miami guard in the assist area; in every other area, Wade has been dominant.

Last year, Miami came into Detroit averaging 103.5 points per game in the playoffs. Detroit held them to an average of 88.3 points in the series. But this Miami club has Jason Williams and not Damon Jones at point guard and Antoine Walker at forward and not Eddie Jones as the swingman. Both players seem to be a better mix for this team than last year’s starters. Miami also brings a much better bench to this year’s Detroit series.

The boards, especially on offense, will be instrumental in determining the winner of this playoff contest. Miami has the edge there. However, Detroit is probably the best defensive team in the league. They shut down LeBron James in the second half of game seven and took the series. They’ll need to control Wade—harass him—and wear down the aging O’Neal. If the Pistons can do that, it may be 2005 all over again. But if an improved Heat team can learn from last year’s mistakes and play to their full potential, Miami will be in the NBA finals.

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(1) DETROIT PISTONS

It took the Pistons seven games to take out LeBron James and the Cavaliers. What does that mean? It means a few things. First, the Cavs, although out of the playoffs, can now be considered a contender. Second, Detroit proved that when it came down to the big game that they are still capable of coming through.

In the second half of game seven, the Pistons used their trademark defense to shut down LeBron James as their offense pumped in shots at the other end of the court. The seventh game was over about halfway through the fourth quarter, after the Pistons went on a 15-7 run. There was no way that James and company could catch up. The Pistons now have one day to recuperate before they host the well-rested Miami Heat. Besides having survived a major gut check, what else do the Pistons have going for them?

First, they have assist artist Chauncey Billups, who at point guard has been the master set up guy for Detroit, along with being the team’s second highest scorer (18.5 PPG). On the boards, center Ben Wallace (11.2 RPG) has battled for every rebound. In the Eastern Conference finals, Ben Wallace should have his hands full with O’Neal and Mourning on the boards.

During the playoffs, each member of the cadre of Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Billups has averaged double figures in scoring. Also, Detroit’s bench is sound, with seven other players having scored from three to eight points per game. The Pistons are scoring 96.6 PPG, while opponents are putting in 90.3 each contest. Those stats are due to the team’s well-balanced combination of offense and defense.

This club has a solid three-point threat with Rasheed Wallace (.500), a tough inside game with Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess controlling the boards, and a starting five that can hit from the court.

Will fatigue be a factor in the first game of the series? The good news for Detroit is they don’t have to travel until game three, which means they should find some time to heal from the seven games with the Cavaliers.

Keys for the Pistons, include the team’s defense. Can it keep Miami’s point totals below 95? Thus far in the post-season, the Heat has averaged over 100 PPG. If that happens in this series, Detroit will have a tough time keeping up. Along with slowing down Miami, the Pistons must continue to control the boards. Ben Wallace needs to rebound effectively in the offensive zone, giving his team extra shots. He’s been productive in this area thus far.

Finally, the bench players like point guards Lindsey Hunter and Tony Delk and power forward McDyess have been very productive. They will be essential against Miami, especially in the first two games where Detroit has home court and the opportunity to set the tone for the entire series. The Pistons have proved they know how to and very much want to win. Miami beware these guys are not the Nets.

Maddux Sports Series Picks

Detroit wins series 4-2

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