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Eastern Conference Finals Preview

   by Al McMordie - 05/22/2006

The Pistons FINALLY took care of business Sunday, swatting away the pesky Cavaliers after falling behind 3-2 in the series. Now they take on the very well rested Miami Heat. The Pistons are fortunate to have a deep bench, though new coach Flip Saunders didn’t use the bench much during the Cleveland series, which was curious. Still, Detroit has been the best team in the NBA all season and has home court for this series. Everyone on both sides is relatively healthy. The only concerns would be the status of Rasheed Wallace and his ankle, and Dwyane Wade’s wrist, which was sore last week.

A close look at the regular season meetings tells us a lot of interesting things. What stands out is that Detroit had better balanced scoring, and has significant edges at the free throw line and from three point land. Because of this, they won 3 of 4 regular season meetings with Miami, also going 3-1 against the spread. In fact, they won those three games convincingly by scores of 106-101, 82-73 and 95-82. The only game they lost they should have won, as Miami needed a monster 4th quarter at home, outscoring Detroit 29-14, to pull out a 100-98 win February 12.

Miami is not a particularly strong 3-point shooting team (34%), but was second in the NBA in shooting from the field at just under 48%. However, that didn’t bother Detroit, as Miami shot 52%, 46.7%, 37.8% and 44.6% against them. What stands out is how strong Detroit’s perimeter defense was, as Miami had games from three-point land shooting 1-of-12 and 0-for-10! On the other side of the stripe, Detroit’s long range shooting was very good, with games of 7-of-18, 11-of-20, 6-of-22 and 5-of-12 from three point land. The Pistons are second in NBA three-point shooting at .385% from long range. Chalk up a big edge from long range for the Pistons.

The Shaq factor, or poor free throw shooting factor, was also a big edge for the Pistons when they met the Heat. Miami shot 65% from the line in the first meeting, 10-of-14 in the third meeting and 16-of-26 (61%) in the last meeting. Meanwhile, the Pistons made 12 more free throws in the first meeting (86%), 8 more in the third meeting, and 2 more in the final meeting.

Lastly, the issue of balanced scoring was significant. The unselfish, deep and team-oriented Pistons had balanced scoring in all the games. They don’t care who gets the most shots or points, preferring to feed the ball to the hot hand. Miami, on the other hand, was a two-man show when these teams clashed: It was all Shaq and Wade. Wade had 33 points on 14-of-20 shooting in the opener while Shaq had 26 points (a 106-101 Detroit win). In Miami’s lone win, Wade had 37 and Shaq 31. In Game 3, Shaq had 27, but Wade was 3-of-15 shooting as Detroit won 82-73. And in the last meeting, Shaq had 28 while Wade had 29, but Detroit still won 95-82.

One good sign for Miami is that they are healthy. The Heat's top eight rotation players -- Wade, O'Neal, Antoine Walker, Udonis Haslem, Jason Williams, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning and James Posey -- were available together for only a total of 26 games during the regular season. So it's probably no coincidence that the Heat appears to be playing its best basketball now that it has finally been able to match that seven-game stretch of continuity. The Heat has had its ideal eight-man rotation together, winning 6 of 7 games. Perhaps no player has settled into his role better than Walker, who has adjusted to his position as a starting small forward and is averaging 14.3 points in the postseason and 19.7 in his past three while shooting 53.8 percent from the field. The Heat will need someone else to step up instead of the Big 2.

Dwyane Wade had his right wrist taped when he hurt it in Game 5 last Tuesday when he hit the floor. “It's a little sore,â€쳌 Wade said. “It didn't swell up. It's just sore, like the other times when I fell on my wrist pretty hard.â€쳌 He’d better be ready for a physical series against the Pistons. Note that Miami is 3-15 SU, 7-11 ATS as an underdog this season! This is also the first time in this playoffs that Miami doesn’t have home court. Miami also went 2-12 against division leaders during the regular season. These teams met one year ago in the Eastern Finals and the Pistons triumphed. They will try to do it again without Larry Brown, but with the home court edge. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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