The Heat is On
With or without Stuckey, the anchor of a second unit that has outscored Detroit starters by an average of 15 points per game over the last three, the Pistons have their hands full with the defending NBA champions, coming off a Christmas Day repeat of their 2012 NBA Finals win over Oklahoma City. Miami owns a conference-best 20-6 record and six-game winning streak into tonight’s game at The Palace.
From Lawrence Frank’s perspective, Miami has fewer chinks in its armor than at any time since bringing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to town to join forces with Wade.
“They know exactly what they need to do in order to win a championship,” he said. “We saw them in the preseason game – when they lock in and guard you, they’re the best in the league. They combine basketball IQ, athleticism, speed, strength, system and they put it all together. They’ve got the best player in the world, another guy who’s top five best player in the world, another guy who’s top 25 best player in the world surrounded by the right role players … and you’re bringing Ray Allen off the bench? Yeah, they’re good.”
But not unbeatable. The Washington Wizards, an NBA-worst 3-23, claim one of their wins over Miami. And as the Pistons proved at Atlanta two nights ago, when their bench erased a 22-point deficit in less than 11 minutes to briefly take a one-point lead and nearly held on to win, a little confidence can quickly snowball into a dominant stretch of basketball.
“We’re professionals,” Will Bynum said. “You never know what can happen. I mean, the Wizards beat Miami. Who would have ever thought that? Any night, any team can be beaten in the NBA.”
The task would be made more difficult if Stuckey can’t go, of course. He returned to Wednesday’s game midway through the first overtime, but is considered questionable for tonight’s game with a left ankle sprain. Stuckey’s absence would virtually ensure another major opportunity for Bynum, who scored 31 points to spark the Atlanta comeback. Out of the rotation after Frank decided it was imperative to not merely extend Stuckey’s minutes but put the ball in his hands more as a point guard, Bynum has lately been eating into Brandon Knight’s time.
“He’s playing well,” Frank said of Bynum. “When you’re the third point guard, you always have to be ready. That’s part of the job description. You can go from not playing at all to being the backup.”
Being ready is a particular point of pride with Bynum. He played 25 straight minutes to finish the Atlanta game and then got in extra work after Thursday’s practice, waving off any suggestion he might be a little sore from the extra workload.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I put my work in. I’m a professional; I’ve been a professional for eight years. That’s my job. If I’m not ready, then I’m not doing my job. When he calls on me, no matter how many minutes it is, I’m going to be ready.”
And especially ready for Miami.
“If you can’t get up for a game against the Miami Heat, you probably don’t need to be playing in the league,” he said. “It’s the best team in the league, some of the best players in the world on their team, it’s at the highest level, the highest stage. You’ve got to be ready to perform on those nights.”
With no Wade, the Pistons are prepared for the full arsenal of James.
“Man, he’s a different creature,” Bynum said. “You’re watching it, but when you’re out there with him, he’s got speed like me at 6-9, 6-10, ain’t no telling what he weighs, strong as anybody, can shoot the basketball, can pass. It’s tough, and more than that, he’s unselfish. He makes everybody on the court better. It’s pick your poison with him and he seems to make the right decision almost every time.”
“He continues to get better,” Frank said. “He continues to grow and get better and he’s only going to get better. He’s a great player and has a chance, as he continues to progress, to be one of the greatest to ever play the game.”