The Miami Heat will trade in sunny South Beach for the cold and windy Motor City tonight. The team is set to face the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and the outcome seems obvious on paper.
Detroit has continued its funk this season and stands just 9-22 in the Central Division. Miami, on the other hand, is the best team in the Eastern Conference and brings a six-game winning streak into tonight's game.
Miami will obviously be looking to extend its winning streak to seven, but they'll have to do it without star guard and team leader Dwyane Wade. The two-time champion has been suspended for one game after blatantly kicking Charlotte Bobcats point guard Ramon Sessions in the groin during a game on December 26, and his 20.2 points per game will be sorely missed.
To add insult to injury, or vice versa, the Heat could also be without sharpshooter Ray Allen tonight as he battles a sore shoulder.
This gives the young Pistons the opportunity of a lifetime. They may be underachieving this season, but their defense is one of their greatest strengths. The team ranks eighth in rebounding and 11th in points allowed, so Miami lacking two of its best scoring threats puts Detroit in a prime position to pull off a rare upset.
Time: Friday, December 28th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, Fox Sports Detroit
Records: Miami Heat (20-6) vs. Detroit Pistons (9-22)
Betting Line: Miami (-6.5), Detroit (+6.5)
Injuries: Dwyane Wade (suspension, out), Ray Allen (shoulder, day-to-day), Tayshaun Prince (ankle, expected to play), Rodney Stuckey (ankle, questionable)
Key Storyline: Can Guard-Depleted Miami Defeat Defensive Detroit?
The Heat will definitely not have Dwyane Wade tonight and could be in trouble if Ray Allen is unable to play. In that case, either Mike Miller or James Jones would likely get the start at shooting guard. Both men are not bad players by any means, but their skills beyond three-point shooting are highly limited.
Not only is Wade an excellent scorer, but his on-court leadership is undeniable. He may have LeBron James as a teammate now, but the Heat have always been his team. The versatile and excellent defense he provides is just the icing on the cake.
Nearly the same can be said for Allen. He may be a sixth man and shooter in Miami, but his leadership is invaluable. Even if he is getting old, he is still at the top of his game and a great loss for head coach Erik Spoelstra's rotation.
This makes the game anything but in the bag for the Heat. Detroit's greatest successes this season have come on the back of its defense, anchored by young center Greg Monroe and rookie Andre Drummond. Both men provide big bodies in the middle, which could prove tough for a Heat team that has struggled against size most of this season.
It's going to be interesting to see how Miami approaches their battle against the Pistons defense, particularly since a fine slasher in Wade will not be playing. Drummond, though young, averages seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 19.3 minutes per contest, but has averaged 10.2 boards and 2.2 blocks his last five games. He has tremendous size at 6'10", 270 pounds, and is well on his way to a long and prosperous NBA career.
Miami must thus have a plan to contain him throughout the game, otherwise the final score may be closer than the entire team thinks.
Key Matchup: Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond vs. Chris Bosh
Erik Spoelstra chose to use Chris Bosh as his starting center this season and in hindsight, this wasn't the worst idea ever. Bosh has the size to man the 5 at 6'11", 235 pounds, and has averaged 17.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on the season.
However, in his past five games, (one of which he missed with the flu), Bosh's numbers have not been reflective of an NBA center. He has averaged a respectable 15.5 points, but just 4.8 rebounds and less than a block per game over that stretch. Against the big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, this could prove to be a problem.
Granted, Bosh has the experience advantage on both men, especially Drummond, and could use his jump shot to avoid battling in the paint with the strong rookie.
Monroe is a horse of a different color. Like Bosh, he too is 6'11", but has a more conventional center's build at 250 pounds. His third year in the league has been a strong one, and the former Georgetown Hoya is averaging 15.4 points to go with 8.9 rebounds.
Bosh may look to use his jump shot to avoid battling both men, but Monroe is a strong defender despite his limited experience. If anything, he can force Bosh into the low-post and make him play the defensive game, which has never been his strongest suit. Drummond will have the same approach, despite his limited experience, and Bosh could very well have trouble getting past both men's size.
That isn't to say that Bosh is in a battle he can only lose. As I've said many times, he is more experienced than both Pistons big men combined, and could easily have a plan on how to attack both.
However, if Pistons coach Lawrence Frank decides to make a wise defensive choice and use a twin towers approach, Bosh could be in for a long night. Going up against one big man is one thing, but two at the same time? That is one circle of NBA hell, and one I don't care to experience any time soon.
X-Factor: Kyle Singler
With Dwyane Wade and his pesky defense out of the lineup, it's Kyle Singler's time to shine. Though drafted by the Pistons in 2011, Singler chose to play in Spain for a year before coming to the NBA. The young scorer joined Detroit this season and has averaged a modest 8.7 points while shooting 37 percent from downtown.
Even if Ray Allen plays and covers Singler, the former Duke Blue Devil is still at a great advantage. He has good size at 6'8", 230 pounds, and has a natural scorer's touch. In four years at Duke, he averaged 16.1 points per game and shot 36 percent from long range.
Singler has also shown potential this season. He shot 42 percent from three-point territory in the month of November and had 16 points plus 10 rebounds in a win against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 26.
But that was in November. This month, Singler has struggled. He has shot just 28 percent from beyond the arc and has scored in double figures just four times, half as many times as he did in November.
Just the same, Singler cannot let his slow performance in December get him down. He is at a great advantage in tonight's game and must demand the ball from start to finish. He has the talent and the passion to become one of the NBA's premier shooters, and he must let everyone know that tonight.
More importantly, the Pistons offense could use the jolt. Detroit ranks 23rd in points scored at 94.4 per game, and Singler has the skill set to become a spark in the team's lineup.
It's time for him to get back on track, and putting a good number of points on the board against a shorthanded Miami Heat would be a great way to start.
As much as I'd love to see the young Pistons pull off an upset victory against the defending champion Heat, it's just not going to happen. Miami's depth will be just too much for Lawrence Frank's young and inexperienced squad to handle. The game will certainly be close, but the Pistons' youth will shine bright in the fourth quarter when the Heat go on their tear.
LeBron James will step up and then some in Wade's absence, getting close to a triple-double and having one of those scoring nights that turns a great deal of heads. Similarly, Chris Bosh will overcome a slow first half to figure out both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and sink one of his rare and legendary threes to shift the momentum in Miami's favor for good.
On Detroit's end, the team will refuse to give up from start to finish. Monroe and Drummond will dominate the paint as they have all season long, and Tayshaun Prince will do all he can to try to slow down the reigning MVP in James. However, it will be another player on the team who shines tonight.
Kyle Singler will post a career high in points due to the fact that he will not be guarded by Dwyane Wade. He will sink key three-pointers as well as some mid-range jumpers, and his getting out of his December funk will be enough for both fans and the league to start paying attention.
Unfortunately for Singler, he will end up on the losing end yet again. Miami is the team to beat for a reason, and their pulling off the win sans Wade and potentially Ray Allen will further cement that status.
Miami Heat 99, Detroit Pistons 93