Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. While the Heat have cruised to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference this season, all three of their losses have come against teams with a combined record of 18-36. What gives?
Dan Feldman: Those losses came by four points, one point and one point. Miami has also won 10 straight since that last defeat. So, what gives? The proverbial inability to win them all. That’s it. I don’t think Miami is any more susceptible to losing to bad teams than any other back-to-back defending champion favorited to repeat. The Heat have their eyes on the playoffs, so they might not rout every bad team, and anything can happen in close games.
Brady Fredericksen: It’s hard to push the pedal to the metal nightly. It’s odd that the Heat’s three losses have come against bad teams like Philly, Boston and Brooklyn — not to mention they almost lost to Charlotte last night. Sometimes it’s just hard to get motivated, and that happens to all of us. The Pistons took out a sleeping (and Dwyane Wade-less) Heat team last season at the Palace, too. When you’re as good as Miami is, and as the Pistons were in their glory days, you can turn “it” on when you please.
Tim Thielke: The Heat are good enough to beat any given team. But they can’t play full throttle all the time because of the long schedule. So they let any team hang around. The fact that bad ones have prevailed is just flukish.
2. Both side have their own unique strengths, but what in particular will each be able to exploit during the game?
Dan Feldman: The Heat create and make a lot of 3-pointers, and the Pistons are particularly bad at defending the perimeter. I don’t see either team deviating from its season-long marks there. On the flip side, the Heat basically surrender the offensive glass in order to get back on defense. The Pistons, one of the NBA’s top defensive rebounding teams, should have no issue securing Miami’s misses. Generating transition opportunities afterward should prove much more difficult, though.
Brady Fredericksen: Miami’s going to be able to exploit its shooting and plethora of playmakers, but the Pistons have a big advantage down low. Most of the Heat’s success comes from lineups where they’ve got LeBron James and Chris Bosh manning the power forward and center spots. That presents a speed/athleticism advantage, but the Pistons are going to be able to throw big man after big man at Miami. If the Pistons can pound the paint and defend it effectively, that may be enough to keep things close.
Tim Thielke: What are sometimes labeled “hustle points” ought to show the biggest margins. Detroit should dominate the second chance points while Miami runs away on fast break points.
3. What are the Pistons going to have to do in order to upset the defending champs on the road?
Dan Feldman: Ride Andre Drummond and make the Heat adjust. The Pistons will probably lose this game no matter what strategy they use, but if they play it on Miami’s small-ball terms, their odds decrease even further. Go big, feed Drummond inside and hope the Heat must deviate from their preferred rotations in order to match up.
Brady Fredericksen: Hope LeBron has an off night. That’s the easiest way to beat Miami, but on the same token, I’m also interested in how Josh Smith’s defends him. Unfortunately, LeBron has treated Smith like a throughout their careers. They’ve played 29 times, and in that span LeBron has dropped 40, 43 and 48 points on Smith-led teams — all while averaging 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. That is, um, well, not fair.
Tim Thielke: Honestly, their best shot is Miami not respecting Detroit and letting them stick around through the first 3 quarters. And they really need to work to limit turnovers. Those are free points for the Heat. But I don’t think this is a good matchup for the Pistons. Pencil in a loss.