Where’s the Love for Hate?
Posted Apr 6 2007 4:48PM
No seriously. Here we have two of the last three NBA champions squaring off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ABC and the two teams that have met in the last two Eastern Conference finals, and there's barely a peep from the cognoscenti about it.
We hear about certain rivalries all the time from the classic (Celtics-Lakers, Pistons-Bulls, Knicks-Heat) to the modern (Dallas-Phoenix, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) to the new school (Heat-Lakers). Heck, we even hear about the increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the Heat and the Bulls (James Posey, anyone?), but rarely do we hear about Pistons-Heat.
Aren't two Finals championships and back-to-back playoffs series for the right to play in the Finals enough any longer?
I said it once and I'll say it again, the East is Detroit's to lose. Yes, even with Cleveland creeping up in the Central, the Bulls hanging tough and the Raptors having a miracle season, it will take a monumental effort to overcome Detroit's deep and experienced roster. The only team who can match the Pistons' poise and experience will visit the Palace Sunday. And if the defending champs want to prove they can stand up to the main challengers to their crown, Sunday is the time to prove it. The Heat need to show the rest of the league they can win without their most valuable player: Dwyane Wade.
There, I said it. Wade is the Heat's MVP. He's been their MVP since 2005, you know, back when everyone else thought it was Shaquille O'Neal. He may have been MVP during the regular season, but in the 2005 playoffs it was Wade all the way. He was so good against the Pistons in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals, the only person who could stop Wade was Wade himself. He pulled a rib muscle in a game in which the Heat took a 3-2 series lead.
"Well, right now I'm just feeling pain," Wade said. "I just made a quick move on a crossover and I guess I pulled a muscle by doing that.
But Wade wouldn't feel better and the Pistons destroyed the Heat in Game 5, 91-66, with Miami's MVP on the bench. Wade would return for Game 7 but he wasn't 100 percent and neither were the Heat, as the Pistons advanced to the Finals with an 88-82 win.
Flash, er, fast forward one year to see what a completely healthy Wade could accomplish. The Heat finished the Pistons in six. After losing the first two Finals games, the Heat climbed aboard Wade's shoulders as he carried the team to four straight wins and championship glory.
But Wade's shoulders aren't strong enough to sustain him in a game now let alone the Heat. Shaq stepped up on March 2 when he scored 35 points, grabbed 16 boards and dished six assists as the Heat eked out an 85-82 win. This is another chance for the Shaq of old to reassert his authority. After all, Shaq should despise Detroit. They ruined his first chance for his fourth ring in 2004. Then he had to go through them for No. 4. They, more than likely, stand in the way of No. 5.
As for the Pistons, they've been hanging in while fighting the toughest opponent they may face all year: the flu.
While the bug has slowed them, the Pistons have maintained their three game lead on the Cavs for the East's top seed. A win over the Heat on Sunday would be a step toward homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Not that the Pistons would necessarily need it. At 24-13, they're the only East team to have a winning road record. That's what makes them the best team in the conference right now and that's what makes them the East's favorite for the Finals.
They just need to go through the defending champs to get it.
Sounds like the makings of a great rivalry, doesn't it?