For a brief moment on Wednesday, with LeBron James throwing “flagrant” elbows and Udonis Haslem defending much larger opponents, the Miami Heat were playing what felt very much like a postseason contest.
The Heat lost that game, 84-83, to their Eastern Conference rivals, the Indiana Pacers. Now with the bloody battle over, the war against the long season grind continues.
Miami (now 48-22) played a sloppy, ugly game on Wednesday, dragged through the defensive mud that is the Pacers. But in the second half – and in the locker room afterward – the Heat displayed an anger and intensity that has been missing for weeks.
It seems unlikely that James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will rekindle that fire against the Detroit Pistons, a team that Miami has beat 17 out of the previous 20 meetings. The Pistons (26-45) have dropped 8 of their last 10 games, and has been in disarray all season. Still, their lineup, particularly the frontcourt, could create a matchup problem for the Heat.
Detroit’s front line includes 6’10 Andre Drummond (leading the Pistons with nearly 13 rebounds and 2 blocks per game), 6’11” Greg Monroe (15 PPG) and 6’9” Josh Smith (Detroit’s top scorer at 16.5 PPG). Add the streaky Brandon Jennings to the mix (16 points and 8 assists per game) and the Pistons might have the pieces in place to challenge Miami, as they did in a 107-97 victory back in December.
However, the Heat has beaten Detroit twice since then.
But Miami’s lineup is, yet again, in flux. Wade, who cramped up late in the Pacers game, may miss tonight’s competition: The Heat travel to Milwaukee tomorrow to take on the Bucks and he usually sits out at least one game of a back-to-back set. Ray Allen isn’t available, staying in Miami to continue recovering from the flu that kept him from traveling to Indiana.
Who starts in Wade’s place? Probably Toney Douglas, the defensive-minded guard that Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra has used with more frequency lately. And Shane Battier and Michael Beasley – who both stayed on the bench against the Pacers – will probably see the court at some point tonight.
Greg Oden, who struggled with fatigue and wasn’t a factor against Indiana’s All-Star Roy Hibbert, will start again for Miami (meaning he’s out against the Bucks tomorrow).
This game is of little consequence to Miami; with the Pacers practically guaranteed to win the top seed in the East, the Heat can coast through the remaining 12 regular season games. And as the team’s health – both persisting and potential future issues – becomes a focal point down the stretch, Spoelstra will likely adjust his lineup on a nightly basis.
Miami will continue to fight boredom, injury, and fluctuating lineups. As a result, they sometimes forget to compete against lesser teams. But for the Pistons, with the playoffs out of reach and only their pride at stake, stealing a win against the Heat could be the consolation prize for this long, disappointing season.
Watch the telecast of the game beginning at 7:30 P.M. on Sun Sports from The Palace at Auburn Hills in Detroit. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.