Three-Pointer: Heat-Pistons Opener

1. No substitute for watching Right after I posted my series pick of Pistons in 6, three respondents quickly chimed in to rebut me. The difference? They'd obviously been watching a lot more of the Pistons-Cavs series than I did. (For the record, I didn't see any of the games end-to-end, and missed two of the three Cavs wins entirely.) I did watch most of Game 7, particularly in the second half when that famed Pistons D came back into vogue, and figured they'd merely been coasting in their losses. And I'd seen enough of the Heat in the first two rounds to discern what I thought would be their weaknesses versus Detroit (and may still be).

But there is no substitute for getting a feel for a team game in and game out, and I'm afraid my sporadic playoffs watching--as good as the postseason has been, alas--is going to work against me in the Western Conference as well. (Ironically, I've seen just about every playoff game Phoenix has played, so have the best take on them. But mid-evening commitments prevented me from seeing a lot of the first halves of that classic Mavs-Spurs series.) So be forewarned: I'll be parading my ignorance once more in the Mavs-Suns preview I'll post later today. Meanwhile, please continue to enlighten me out there folks, and, my crazy schedule permitting, I'll try and keep up.

2. Veteran bench steps up. Much was made about how Miami actually outscored Detroit after Wade went out with foul trouble in the third quarter. But the key for me was late in the second period, when both Wade and Shaq had to sit with foul trouble, on the tail end of a Pistons' run no less. If there was ever a time for Detroit to grab the game by the throat it was then. But Gary Payton turned back the clock, going off for three quick buckets and playing engaged D, almost like the old days. And Antoine Walker, always a great second banana so long as it is not beside a superstar like Shaq or Wade, played off Payton perfectly and got some buckets and strong rotations of his own. Throw in 'Zo, who you knew would give you quality, and Miami actually quelled the Pistons momentum and bumped the lead to six heading into halftime. Not to slight Jason Williams' third quarter heroics and the way Miami battled back after the Pistons had seized the lead, but that second quarter was the real confidence-builder for a couple of vets whose contribution is going to be vital in this series.

3. Billups and Billups and Hamilton, oh my We can talk all we want about Miami's depth coming through (in fact I just did, didn't I?) but if Detroit hits a few of those eminently makeable shots from outside with any kind of consistency, the Pistons exploit the Heat's foul troubles to win this one going away. Chauncey Billups in particular had what for him was a horrendous shooting performance, and Rip Hamilton, who is out on the floor for one reason and that's to fill it up, was likewise tepid. It wasn't Miami's defense either--those are looks Detroit has been getting and converting all season (but maybe not in those Cavs' games I missed?). Lindsay Hunter and Antonio McDyess did their job off the bench. 'Sheed could have done more than 7 points, but he's a little banged up and is jousting with the leviathans down low. You never expect much from Ben Wallace on offense. And Tayshaun Prince should be using as much energy as possible for defending Wade. That leaves the backcourt, and if they don't regain their shooting touch in Game Two, this could be a pretty short series.

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