Coach's Corner: Don Casey on Heat vs. Pistons
By Don Casey (As told to Andrew Pearson)

The Heat visit the Pistons Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.


Casey
This is an important game at this juncture of the season. Although the Pistons have clinched a playoff spot, people were thinking that they were a little vulnerable based on their recent play on the road, having lost four of seven while not displaying their usual strong defense. My feeling was they may have just been weary. These guys have been deep into the playoffs the last few years. They have a lot of games in those legs and every game the other team is coming at them. A little lull or glitch should be expected. The same was true of the 80s Celtics with McHale, Bird and Parrish.

The Heat, on the other hand, has been on a roll since the All-Star break. There has been some question of whether or not Pat Riley will rest some of his players down the stretch, but if he does, it will be in practice time and intensity, not game minutes. Recently, Dwyane Wade has been leading the way and they are really utilizing him excellently. Similar to how the Bulls used Michael Jordan in the triangle offense and how the Lakers use Kobe Bryant, Wade is all over the place on the offensive end and clearly feels comfortable. He is up in the middle of the floor, he is coming off the base. Against New York, they ran excellent backscreens for him. When he does have the ball, they put him in the middle of the floor, they open up and say make your play. If he is on the side they give him a screen or a clear out. As a result, Wade has scored 25 or more in eight of his last 10 games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Wade has flourished of late.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The other night against Atlanta, the Pistons had a lot of defensive energy and bounce to their step. They were really applying pressure at halfcourt, scrambling around, trying to take time off the clock, and trying to get the ball out of certain people's hands. Lindsey Hunter was in that mode, as was Chauncey Billups, and that picks up the energy all around. They went down and doubled the post, not so much to take away the scoring threat of the post person, but to more or less make the offense scramble around to get open and take them out of their flow. As a result they built big leads throughout the game. That was excellent.

Can they do that with Miami? I think they can. Jason Williams is the type of player that could come unglued under such pressure or he could burn them. In their game against the Knicks, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he seems to have the freedom to bring the ball up quickly and if there is a shot available, to take it. If there isn't, they wait for Alonzo Mourning or Shaquille O'Neal to come down. Both he and Wade seem to have an open floor policy, which is a little different than the last two teams that Riley had. They were really structured and there was a tight leash.

However, on the defensive end, their perimeter people get beat off the dribble. A lot of people were impressed by Mourning's eight blocks against New York, but that demonstrates how much they were getting inside. With Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and even Tayshaun Prince, this could be a problem if they are able to penetrate and dump or penetrate and create fouls.

X-FACTORS

Both teams pride themselves on the pick and roll, both in defending it and utilizing it on the offensive end. Early on watch to see what both teams do against the pick and roll. How will Miami handle the pick and roll, particularly Shaq's weakness, which is in the middle of the floor. He hasn't been able to manage that and I believe you'll see Detroit involving Rasheed Wallace frequently. Wallace can cause all kinds of problems for Miami. He can shoot over you from deep or post up on the low block. Who are they going to defend him with? Will Riley play both Mourning and Shaq at the same time? Riley will go to Heaven before he double teams, so you can be pretty sure that you will see a mano-a-mano there. Detroit will also use both Wallaces, drive off him and see what Shaq does, and then one Wallace might slide down, while the other Wallace will come up. They're good at that and they're going to put that type of pressure on Shaq.

It will be interesting to see how Riley uses Shaq, not only in this game, but in the playoffs as well because of his horrendous free throw shooting this year. He is back to shooting it like a dart. Riley will throw the ball to Shaq early to see how they're going to defend him. What they're looking for when that happens is if the Pistons are going to double team after the pass or as he dribbles. If he comes into the middle to shoot, are they always going to foul him? Detroit has a lot of people that can waste fouls. If they double up on Shaq to try and get it out of his hands, Miami is very good in spotting up and cutting people and getting them open. This will be very good for Wade

THE BOTTOM LINE

In the last game between these two teams, Wade was chasing Rip around for a good portion of the game and admitted afterwards that it tired him out. Now you would never know it based on Wade scoring the final 17 Heat points in that one, but that can't happen again. The Pistons are smart enough, if they see that, they will go to their baseline, they will go to those curls, they will run him up, and they will tire Wade out. I see Detroit taking this one at the Palace in a 92-85 type game.

-- Don Casey appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association