Battle with the champs

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (19-27) at Miami Heat (33-13)
  • Date: February 3, 2014
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

Fresh off a blowout home victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Detroit Pistons will start off a small Florida trip with a game at the house of the Miami Heat.

After being humbled at home by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the defending champions rebounded with a victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The contest itself might be a mere regular-season footnote, but the win was a sign of a change in focus from Miami. They have looked disinterested with the season for the most part, and have essentially been going through the motions.

However, the contest against the Knicks seemed to indicate something different: the Heat will coast no more. The back-to-back champs went into NY with great defensive energy and challenged shooters.

LeBron James, who has been accused of taking the biggest backseat of all the Heat members, was active when defending the likes of J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony. He came in with focus and was all over the floor as evidenced by his 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals.

It would appear as though James has finally flipped the proverbial switch. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com provided more in-depth insight after the game:

Over the past 10 games, James has indeed been heading up the ramp. The easiest explanation of it is that midseason has arrived and his normal rhythms tend to have him turn it on at this time. It’s possible some of it was motivation the mini-wave of negative publicity his little slump, by his standards, created. And, of course, there was Durant. James has been watching Durant’s performance like a dedicated Oklahoma City Thunder fan, and it no doubt tapped his competitive streak.

With James ramping up his play, it stands to reason that his teammates will follow his lead. The champs might very well play at a higher level in the second half of the season, and that should help the Pistons figure out just where it is that they stand in the Eastern Conference.

Detroit was victorious in Miami last December largely in part to a subpar defensive game by the home team. The Pistons converted 51.3 percent of their shots and 43.8 percent of their treys.

The Heat were consistently late on rotations, and the Pistons were more than happy to take advantage of it by scoring 60 points in the paint.

In their most recent contest at New York, Miami limited the Knicks to 30 points in the paint and dared them to hit contested shots from long range. The Pistons come with a different identity, one that relentlessly attacks the painted area for high-percentage field-goal attempts.

It will certainly be interesting to see if the Pistons are allowed to play to their strengths (second-chance points and interior scoring) against a team that has won in the past with suffocating defense.

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Tags: Miami Heat THN-MIA

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