MIAMI – If the Pistons thought the defending NBA champions might ease back into things, the Miami Heat quickly disabused them of that notion. After returning from two games in China, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came out full of sound and fury Thursday. Smothering the Pistons on the defensive end – they held Detroit to 19 percent shooting in the first quarter – the Heat led by 16 after a quarter and 27 at halftime in their first home game since winning the 2012 title.
While every Pistons shot seemed rushed – by Lawrence Frank’s count, the Pistons missed 18 shots within 2 feet of the basket in the first half alone – Miami shot an endless array of unmolested shots and Heat players cut to the basket unimpeded with alarming frequency early. The Pistons played Miami even in the second half of the 105-78 loss, but that did little to provide Frank solace.
“They got it every which way,” he said. “They owned the paint.”
“I was disappointed,” Tayshaun Prince said. “The only real plus you can get out of this game is if you want one day to be where they’re at, look what they did to you today. No matter if this was the first game after their championship or anything, those guys are going to come out like that all the time. Hopefully, our guys can understand – the young guys that we have – if you want to win in this league, if you want to compete for a title, you’re going to have to play like that every night.”
Miami played its core group, with LeBron James effectively playing power forward opposite Shane Battier and Chris Bosh at center in the starting lineup. The quickness, aggressiveness and ability to swarm the ball prevented the Pistons from coming close to establishing a first-half rhythm.
“We never want to play like that, regardless of the circumstances,” said Greg Monroe, who led the Pistons with 15 points but whose rebounding difficulties – he finished with two after registering zero in the first half – typified Miami’s quickness to the ball. “We know, especially on the road against teams like this, we have to come out and play with energy and that’s something we didn’t do tonight. They played really well, we played really bad, and the score showed that.”
Miami didn’t play its stars quite as long in the second half, but the Pistons at least managed to start swapping jabs with the Heat after halftime. Brandon Knight probed the lane judiciously, scoring twice on tough baskets and drawing fouls, and finished with 12 points on just eight shots, five rebounds and four assists.
Frank said earlier this week that the Miami game and Saturday’s at The Palace with Charlotte would set him up to use the final two games as dress rehearsals for the season opener. He used the same basic pattern at Miami as he did in Tuesday’s win over Orlando, using 10 players – the same 10 – for the first three quarters and mixing it up in the fourth.
Based on the evidence of these last two games, it seems likely the starting lineup for the Oct. 31 opener will remain as it’s been: Monroe, Knight, Prince, Rodney Stuckey, and Jason Maxiell. The next five used were Corey Maggette, Jonas Jerebko, Andre Drummond, Kyle Singler and Will Bynum.
Maggette, though, strained a left calf muscle in the second quarter and did not return. If it’s a routine calf injury, it’s possible he could miss a few weeks. Singler appears ready to handle rotation minutes behind Prince, though, and Frank’s wrinkle against Miami – using Bynum and Knight simultaneously for the first time this preseason – is likely a positive sign for Bynum and indicates the possibility that Frank could be ready to go with a three-man backcourt rotation of Knight, Bynum and Stuckey.
“We’ll see,” Frank said about nearing any conclusions about the rotation. “Let’s wait until tomorrow.”
It’s fair to guess that rookie Andre Drummond furthered his case to be in the rotation, though. He picked up four first-half fouls, another indication of the way Miami speeds up the opponent, yet acquitted himself well overall. In a little more than 18 minutes, none of them spent together with Monroe, Drummond put up nine points and eight rebounds.
Whoever’s in the rotation, Frank hopes a valuable lesson was absorbed in Miami.
“The speed they play at, the intensity they play at, was at such a higher level than what we played,” he said. “It’s a great lesson for our guys. There’s a reason why they’re champs. They’re not waiting for the regular season. They play hard every night. It goes way beyond having great players; they compete.
“It’s disappointing. At the end of the day, you know Miami is a good team, so how are you going to beat them? You’ve got to outwork them. You’ve got to play with more energy. You’ve got to play more together. You’re not going to out-talent them.”