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Getting ready for the Heat

Ben Wallace defends Shaquille O\'NealWith the Pistons and Heat kicking off a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals tomorrow, we thought it appropriate to re-visit the regular season series. Here are each of our game recaps, with some choice excerpts:

December 29, 2005 -- Pistons 106, Heat 101:
Pistons enjoy dry Heat in fourth quarter

Ben's block on Shaq that led to Tayshaun Prince's fast break may have been my favorite play of the game, but Rasheed's crafty "body up then take two steps back" move that led to a traveling call on Shaq was a close second. I loved that move when Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer did it, and I love it just as much now — it just makes the other guy look so . . . dumb.

Not that Shaq needs help looking dumb, especially making post-game comments like this:

"We had the game all the way, we just made a lot of silly mistakes down the stretch," O'Neal said. "You can't do that against a team like Detroit.

"They are the same as last year. They can be beat."

Had the game all the way? How did Shaq manage to play in this game yet watch another? Dude must be a magician. Or some kind of genie.

February 12, 2006 -- Heat 100, Pistons 98:
Pistons drop the ball in Miami

The Pistons lost a stomach-punch game to the Heat, allowing a double-digit lead entering the fourth quarter to dwindle before losing by two. Dwyane Wade scored Miami's final 17 points to finish with a season-high 37 to go along with eight rebounds and four assists. Shaquille O'Neal scored 21 in the first half and finished with a season-high 31.

It's hard to pin down what exactly went wrong for Detroit aside from a series of breakdowns late in the game. A team that scored 59 in the first half mustered just 39 in the second, including a dismal 14-point fourth. Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace all topped 20 points, but Tayshaun Prince shot just 2-12 from the field to finish with five, with a last-second three-point try to win clanging out to end the game. But the loss is hardly Tay-Tay's fault — the entire team just lost its flow in the fourth as Miami turned up the pressure to win their first game of the season against one of the league's top four teams.

Rasheed Wallace defends Dwyane WadeMarch 22, 2006 -- Pistons 82, Heat 73:
Real-time recap: Pistons cool Heat

Heading into the locker room, ‘Toine says that Miami is going to keep pounding the ball into the paint to Shaq until the Pistons decide to double-team. When does Detroit ever double-team Shaq? The Pistons beat L.A. in 2004 and beat the Heat in 2005 without doubling him up. Why would they start now?

I think Bill Walton just threw out his back bending over for Wade – thank god for Tivo, because we went back and got this word for word:

Walton: "You look at his body, Dwayne Wade, it’s as if Michelangelo sculpted it in a dream. He’s just so cut, and his posture, the rack upstairs and those shoulders, so broad."

That, followed by an awkward silence by Tirico. Officially the first time I’ve heard a man talk about another man’s "rack upstairs."

Well, at least Shaq knows how to be a good sport — From the Miami Herald:

"We're not impressed with what they so-called did," O'Neal said. "It's what we didn't do."

"We [messed] that game up. And you can put it just like that. We [messed] that game up."

Methinks Shaq is getting tired of Detroit consistently [messing] him up the past couple of years.

April 6, 2006 -- Pistons 95, Heat 82:
Pistons overcome Heat’s hot flashes

If last night's game is any indication of the mindset of the Heat — and of course it is — Miami is so worried about beating the Pistons physically — and the refs verbally — that they've sacrificed their cool and ceded the psychological edge in the rivalry. Wade and Kazaam led some nice runs to pull Miami close in the second half, but when it came to creeping over the top, the Heat folded. Here was Wade being goaded into a foul by Rip Hamilton and accosting the ref afterwards (a move that probably would have resulted in Sheed's ejection). Here was Kazaam, drawing two offensive fouls in the game, and from there on out feeling invinceable to the refs whistle (complaining on both ends of the court, for and against foul calls). Here was Wade again, failing to draw a foul on a jumper after he clearly initiated contact — and then lingering on that end of the floor to bitch and moan, while Rip promptly sank a bucket in his absense (further emphasizing the lapse).

The Heat were so caught up in their game with the refs, that they let the Boys in Blue run away with the game on the scoreboard, and that is the difference between these two teams. The Pistons whine to the refs…a lot, but they never forget to win the game.

Remember, while this may be a re-match of an exciting series last year, it's not yet a "rivalry:" since 2002, Detroit has won 19 out of 26 games against the Heat, and since 2004, when Detroit's current starting five started to come together, they've taken 13 of 18.

I'm still hoping for a good series, though for obvious reasons I prefer it not go any longer than six games. I'm going to hold off making any official predictions right now, but don't be surprised if this goes a bit smoother than the Cleveland series, especially now that the Pistons have officially woken up.