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Dwyane Wade, Heat = biggest test yet… No, really

The Piston guards will be tested tonight.

The schedulers should be hung for that. Five back-to-back sets and then a four day layoff? How's that make any sense? Regardless, we are finally back to talking about Piston basketball, and tonight's tilt with the Heat offers an opportunity to examine a couple of nagging questions, as well as what they mean to the matchup.

I've debated vehemently with Matt recently the following question: With only two wins thus far against teams over .500, what do we really know about the Pistons?

Well, we know that they can still bully the short, fat kids of the NBA playground (e.g., Philly, Charlotte, Atlanta, etc.). But can they take it to their peers, the good teams (or, the supposed-to-be-good, as is the case with Miami)? Can they still march into another team’s arena and step on their neck?

With those questions in mind, I contend that tonight's game against the Heat should be as telling a barometer for Piston fans as any game this season. (And, yes, that includes the last-second road loss to the world-beating Utah Jazz.)

Don't let the Heat's 6-8 record or the Pistons' downplaying of the rivalryCheck out that link. Apparently Blakely is on the hallucinogenic drugs as Chauncey as he describes Pistons-Heat as a "blossoming" rivalry. Blossoming? They've squared off in the EC Finals the past two postseasons, own two of the past three NBA championships, and hate each other... and the rivalry is blossoming? What the hell is that? fool you into thinking otherwise. Even with Kazaam missing until Christmas, Jason Williams recovering from knee surgery, and Antoine Walker doing his best "bus throwing undering," the Heat represent a formidable foe. Their 0-6 championship banner…which, as Matt points out, may or may not be officially recognized in the land of Chauncey Billups. (and the Piston psychological pains that go along with it) is only the icing.

It won't be easy; the Heat are pumped for this.

''Winning these past couple of games was a pretty good confidence booster because of the way we started out,'' forward Udonis Haslem said. 'People probably say, `Hey, they beat Charlotte, they beat Philly, so what?' When you get a chance to beat a team like Detroit, you feel a little more confident than just beating Charlotte and Philly.''

And for his part, Pat Riley is getting his guys motivated:

And in the wake of a 20-point loss last week — Miami’s fourth by that margin or more — Riley threatened to cut players despite their guaranteed contracts.

"You show a team like this a lot of respect, and you give them a lot of rope, and sometimes it backfires," Riley said. "You think that because they’re veterans, they understand certain privileges. Then you’re getting beat by 20 and 30 and 40, and you say, ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t the way to go with it.’

"It has its benefits — don’t wear them out in practice, and save it for the games. But I wasn’t wearing them out in practice, and we weren’t saving anything for the games."

Finally, since moving to point guard three games ago, Dwyane Wade has averaged over 33 points and 13 assists per (while the team has been over 100 points in each game).

The Pistons' perimeter defense will be tested; the help defense will be tested; and the defensive rebounding will be tested. This Miami team is not Atlanta.

Hell, even Miami's verrry casual fan baseHonestly, how many "lifelong" Heat fans do you think can name Alonzo Mourning's alma mater, let alone Gary Payton's or Michael Doleac's? should be pumped for this one. And while they may not know how to show up for the first quarter, they sure can wear white t-shirts and make buzzing noises with the best of them.

So, after a long layoff and amidst a six game win streak, how does Blue respond tonight? Has the recent string of victories simply been a byproduct of a dip in competition? Or have you noticed something in the recent play that portends good things for the future of this team?

Or are you of the opinion that Miami is no more a measuring stick than the Hawks, Bobcats, or Hornets?

Bring your pre-, in-, and postgame comments here.

Pistons-Heat a blossoming rivalry [MLive]
Heat-Pistons still a 'healthy rivalry' [Miami Herald]
Champs to chumps? Heat seeking answers [AP, MSNBC]