In the late 1980s, the Detroit Pistons developed the renowned Jordan Rules to stop Michael Jordan, then the NBA's hottest young player. Now the reigning NBA champion Pistons have another tough defensive challenge: to stop Dwyane Wade, the NBA playoffs' hottest young player. The following are the Wade Rules.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder entered the Eastern Conference finals looking unstoppable, averaging 28.6 points in the first two rounds. But in Game 1 of the East finals on Monday night, the Pistons not only won on the road but limited Wade to 7-of-25 shooting and only two free-throw attempts en route to 16 points.
Game 2, however, Wade found a way to break free, scoring 40 points in a 92-86 victory to even the series. Game 3 is Sunday at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.
To stop Jordan, the Pistons would constantly double-team him. No matter where he went the top of the key, the wing or baseline there was a double team, including a big man waiting for him. There may have been a hard foul, too.
While Wade might not be getting that hard foul, today's Pistons are pushing him into double teams, clogging his driving lanes and rejecting his shot when he does break through. They are doing whatever it takes.
"You just continue to change the defense up and not let him get too comfortable,'' said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups about Wade. "We're playing [Wade] with a lot of different guys. Changing up the schemes when he goes to penetrate and pick and roll. Not letting him figure it out. Not letting him get too comfortable. It just kind of keeps [him] off guard."
So just what exactly does Wade see when he gets the ball with the Pistons defense in front of him?
The first line of the Pistons defense begins with Tayshaun Prince, a 2004-05 NBA all-second team defender who frustrated many of the league's top offensive stars, including Kobe Bryant in the 2004 NBA Finals. Not only is Prince five inches taller than Wade but he also has a 7-2 wingspan. Wade is quicker than Prince, but when Prince sags to prevent the drive, he's quick enough to get those long arms up to contest Wade's shot. If Wade gets by him, his reach allows him to poke at the ball as Wade penetrates.
It doesn't get much easier for Wade if there is a switch and he ends up with Billups or Rip Hamilton on him. Billups is also a NBA second-team all-defense member. Hamilton is 6-7 with long arms. There is also crafty veteran reserve guard Lindsey Hunter, who is smaller but more physical.
The next line of defense is the big men.
Driving into the lane or coming off of the pick and roll, Wade can end up with a big man on him. But with Detroit, it's not the typical, slow, plodding giant. The Pistons have the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 6-9 Ben Wallace, who earned one of Game 1's highlights by blocking one of Wade's drives to the basket. The 6-11 Rasheed Wallace received eight votes to the all-defensive team and reserve Antonio McDyess is 6-9. Their length and quickness allow them to challenge any player at any position on the floor. And even when Wade gains a speed advantage by having a big man switch onto him, there is another big man waiting in or near the lane to impede his progress.
"Once you get by one defender, they are a good defensive team, so they clog the lane up pretty well,'' Wade said. "They've got three guys who can block shots, McDyess and Wallace and the other Wallace, so they're a very long team, and once you get by one defender you're going to see some more."
While the Pistons' bigs are fleet of foot, the Heat have slower big men in Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem, Christian Laettner and Michael Doleac, who don't get out of the lane quickly when Wade drives. That allows the Pistons' frontcourt defense to hold its position and still challenge Wade's drives. This might be one reason Wade's numbers have been so strong when O'Neal has been out of the lineup.
Said McDyess: "We get our hands up in [Wade's] face. We press up on him. When he drives we have bigs that stand in the lane and try to contest his shot. Their bigs kind of just stand in the lane, so when he drives to the basket we're just standing there. They don't get out on the floor. That helps us a lot."
As Rasheed Wallace added, "Tayshaun knew I had his back when he was guarding D-Wade."
Another key to limiting Wade is keeping the Heat's fast break numbers down. Wade is dynamite in the open court, but Miami had only 11 fast-break points in Game 1. And limiting the Miami fast break allows Detroit to get set up in its tough half-court defense.
"We definitely try to slow them down," McDyess said. "They get out running and doing things like that, it will be tough on us. We love to break it down to half court and get it going our way."
Wade spent a lot of time after Tuesday's practice shooting jumpers and working on his balance on his shot. He said that he was going too fast in Game 1.
He has gained a reputation for recovering strongly after playing a bad game. But this Eastern Conference finals situation is a new challenge, as the Heat, just four wins from the NBA Finals, are in a must-win Game 2 with a hobbled Shaq, and Wade must carry the load against a championship-level defense specifically, the Wade Rules.
Wade remained optimistic that he would solve Detroit's D. And he did, shooting 15-for-28 and adding eight rebounds and six assists on Wednesday.
"I'm not going to take this credit away from their defense,'' Wade said Tuesday. "They did a good job, but also I did miss some shots. It was a little bit of both. I was missing some shots, I was going too fast. I'm a player who takes his time to do a lot of things, and [Monday] I was just speeding myself up. I'll just come out in Game 2 and make the adjustments."
As usual, Prince gets the last word: "The important thing from both aspects is we know how he's going to respond in Game 2, and the question is how we're going to respond trying to defend him."
Wade responded in a Flash, and the Pistons will have to go back to the Palace drawing board for Game 3 on Sunday.
Marc J. Spears is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and the NBA writer for The Denver Post.