The Pistons had an odd weekend. Rasheed Wallace sat out both games as a precaution, and his teammates were only able to muster a split on their brief two-game road trip through Miami and Memphis.
First, the Miami game.
Dwyane Wade is still sidelined indefinitely, but Shaquille O'Neal exerted more energy on Friday than he did for the entire month of February. Without Rasheed in the lineup, Flip Saunders moved Chris Webber to the four and started Dale Davis at center. The intent, I'm guessing was to use Davis' muscle to slow Shaq down.
Unfortunately, it didn't come close to working: Shaq simply abused Davis (and later, Nazr Mohammed) to the tune of 16 points and 12 boards before halftime. As MJD wrote on the FanHouse:
He had almost the entire arsenal back. He had the spin moves working, he had the (sort of) jump hook working, he definitely had the push-off working ... the Pistons frontcourt was powerless.
I'm not sure I agree with the decision not to double-team. It semi-worked in the past, but that was when Detroit not only had Ben Wallace but also needed to worry about Dwyane Wade ... and obviously neither was the case on Friday. Clearly having Rasheed help out in the post would have helped slow the bleeding, but the performance of the other big men was a little disappointing when you think that conventional wisdom says the only reason Joe Dumars didn't trade Davis or Mohammed at the deadline was because of a potential meeting with Shaq in the playoffs. But I digress ...
Despite heading into halftime with a 19-point deficit (28% field goal shooting will do that...), the Pistons made a game of it in the third quarter by holding the Heat to just 11 points while scoring 26. They had their chances late in the game in the fourth, but a combination of cold shooting, generous (generous) officiating in Shaq's favor and a little bit of sloppy late-game execution on Detroit's part allowed the Heat to hold onto victory.
Don't put too much weight into this game, especially as some kind of indicator for future success should the Heat manage to stumble into the playoffs and face the Pistons in a seven-game series. For one, this was Shaq's best game of the season by far, and he just doesn't have a whole lot of these types of performances left. And secondly, the Pistons were not only without Rasheed but also without Chauncey Billups for the first three quarters.
Not literally, of course, but Billups' 0-for-11 performance through the first three frames was very uncharacteristic. With even an average performance in the first half, the Pistons probably could have emerged with a win. They didn't, of course, but I'm not altogether unhappy about the Pistons having a bad taste in their mouth the next time they face the Heat at the Palace (which, incidentally, I will be attending, and hope you will be, too).
Then, the close call in Memphis.
After shooting 37.5% on Friday, the Pistons came back with a 48% performance on Saturday. Of course, this came against the Grizzlies, one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and a squad who also played the night before and entered the game without a single win all season on the second half of a back-to-back series. But hey, a win is a win, right?
After a putrid 2-14 night in Miami, Chauncey rebounded with a team-high 19 points (5-11 shooting) and nine assists. Rip Hamilton finished with 12 points, in part because he failed to get to the free-throw line even once. Jason Maxiell started in place of Rasheed, but he failed to make the most of the opportunity with three turnovers and four fouls (to go with five point and two boards) in 12 minutes.
The Pistons established an early lead but let it slip away early in the third quarter. On the heels of an 8-0 run with less than five minutes left in the game, the Pistons pulled ahead for good. Tayshaun, more than anyone, helped put this game on ice, scoring 10 of his 17 points in the final seven minutes, including a pair of three-pointers which kept Detroit safely in front.
As little as there is to be gained from a win against the Grizzlies, a loss on the heels of Friday's game would have been extremely disappointing, so it's only fair to give the Boys in Blue their due credit. The Pistons return home for a quick two-game home stand this week against the Warriors on Monday and Cavs on Wednesday before heading out West on a five-game trip. With any luck, they'll have their regular starting lineup intact, though Rasheed Wallace's situation appears to be day-to-day.