The Heat have won four of their last five, and avenging an earlier loss against a lottery team in the Pistons would give them even more momentum at their back. This is definitely doable, what with Detroit losing three of five and looking sluggish in recent games.
However, beating the Pistons means embracing a philosophy that has eluded the Heat all season long: defense. Miami has had trouble rebounding, ranking 29th in that department, and young Detroit is eighth in rebounding and seventh in points allowed.
The team must put forth a greater effort for Round 2, and the odds should definitely be in their favor. Detroit has gone just 4-15 on the road this season, while Miami is 17-3 at home. In front of a rowdy American Airlines Arena crowd, Detroit will need to play the exact same game as they did on December 28, only with double the effort.
Miami does not take kindly to intruders on its home floor, and will look to make sure that the Pistons learn that the hard way.
Time: Friday, January 25th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, Fox Sports Detroit
Records: Detroit Pistons (16-26) vs. Miami Heat (27-12)
Betting Line: Not available as of Thursday, January 24, 1 p.m. EST
Injuries: Corey Maggette (flu, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Miami Get Past Detroit Defense in South Beach?
Miami and Detroit last faced each other at the Palace of Auburn Hills on December 28, and the Pistons took full advantage of the defending champions' weaknesses on defense. Detroit only had a 38-35 rebounding advantage, but managed to hold Miami to 31 percent three-point shooting.
The Pistons also had a freakishly good offensive game in their 109-99 victory, shooting 58 percent from the field and a whopping 63 percent from long range. Will Bynum led the way with 25 points off the bench, and not even a combined 63 points from LeBron James and Chris Bosh were able to carry the Heat.
Granted, Dwyane Wade missed that game due to a suspension, but the fact that the Pistons' offense was so effective was shocking, particularly against a defending championship team that looked much better on paper.
Miami simply must play a better game tonight. That means choosing shots wisely, getting everyone involved and not relying solely on the Big Three and, most importantly, playing solid defense.
The Pistons are a team that have already taken them down once, and the Heat's prospects for another title will not look as strong if they are defeated by them yet again.
Key Matchup: Greg Monroe vs. Chris Bosh
The main reason that the Heat have struggled so badly on defense is because head coach Erik Spoelstra has insisted on starting Chris Bosh at center. Bosh has the size for the position at 6'11", 235 pounds, but plays more like a scoring power forward than he does a pure, defense-oriented 5.
On the season, Bosh is averaging 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Were it not for the fact that he prefers to use his jumper rather than stay in the paint and work the low post, he could be considered an elite center.
Unfortunately, he does not play that type of game and, in most instances, pure defensive centers tend to get the better of him.
Greg Monroe was not able to contain Bosh last time, allowing him to score 28 points and pull down nine rebounds, but that cannot be the case today. He must defend Bosh and force his jumper out of the game, stopping at nothing to make the Heat lose their size.
In doing so, Monroe can use his 6'11", 250 pound frame to do some damage of his own. He is averaging 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds this season, though he still has a bit to learn in terms of becoming a truly elite center.
He can start that process by limiting Bosh's opportunities in this game, and also being a force for Detroit on both sides of the floor.
X-Factor: Ray Allen
The Heat will be happy to have Dwyane Wade back for this game, as his scoring and defense will definitely help in their quest to avenge their earlier loss to Detroit. However, what really killed Miami in that game was its low three-point percentage, which means that Ray Allen needs to be at his best.
Allen scored just nine points in 29 minutes in the December 28 game, shooting just three of 13 from the field and two of 7 from downtown. On the season, he has averaged 11.4 points per game and shot 44 percent from long range.
Seeing as how the man is the all-time leader in three-pointers made, he needs to have a better game against the Pistons the second time around. Not only must he be lights-out from beyond the arc, but he must also be willing to incorporate his mid-range game and, if necessary, drive the lane.
He'll likely be guarded by weak defenders in Kyle Singler or Rodney Stuckey, so Allen can use his 17-plus years of NBA experience to make short work of them, no matter how good Detroit's team defense is.
This is Allen's battle to lose, and he simply must win it if the Heat are going to win the game and avenge their December loss to the Pistons.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, so the Detroit Pistons had better be prepared. Miami will be playing with a full deck since Dwyane Wade will be present for this game, and his notoriously pesky defense will have the Pistons scrambling just to score points.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh will turn in more fine performances, and they will score in double figures along with Wade. Detroit will receive solid efforts from Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, and others, but their overall youth will not be able to slow down Miami's attack.
The fact of the matter is that while the absence of Dwyane Wade may not seem like much of a loss with Chris Bosh and LeBron James also in the starting lineup, the lack of his defense and scoring alone could have been the difference the last time these two teams faced off. Fortunately, the Heat will not have to deal with his being out this time.
Long story short, the Heat will dominate the Pistons from start to finish, staving off a Detroit run or two along the way to further establish themselves as the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit's slump will thus continue, leaving head coach Lawrence Frank with no choice but to figure out a new formula to get his young team back on the winning track.
Miami Heat 103, Detroit Pistons 94
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