Heat have work cut out against a 'great team'

Updated: May 21, 2006, 9:00 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Minutes after the Detroit Pistons finished their work Sunday, the Miami Heat began prepping in earnest.

Finally, they knew their fate -- that the long-awaited rematch for Eastern Conference supremacy was set. And it'll begin Tuesday night in Auburn Hills, Mich., where the Heat and Pistons play Game 1 of their second straight conference final series.

"We're happy to be here and we have no excuses, whatsoever," Heat coach Pat Riley said Sunday night, after his team -- which practiced in the morning -- returned for a shootaround after Detroit ousted Cleveland with a 79-61 win in Game 7 of their second-round series.

"We're rested. We're healthy. I think we're happy," Riley said. "And I hope we're humble, or more humble. We have to go up there and we have our work cut out for us with Detroit in Detroit. They're a great team."

Detroit won three of the four meetings with Miami this season, after beating the Heat in seven games for the 2005 East crown. The Pistons didn't have home-court advantage in last year's matchup; they do this year, and, including playoffs, are 43-5 at home this season.

The Pistons should be sharp; the series opener with Miami will be their sixth game in 11 days. Meanwhile, the Heat will be coming off six days of rest after closing out the New Jersey Nets in only five games to reach the East's title matchup -- the one that seemed almost inevitable.

Detroit went 64-18 this season, the best record in the NBA. Miami went 52-30 to secure the East's No. 2 seed.

"I mean, that's what everybody expected," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "I guess that's what everybody wanted to see. It's time for the games everybody wants to talk about to happen."

Too much Miami rest may have helped play a role in the Heat's downfall last season. They had eight days off before the Detroit series a year ago, lost the opener, and wound up eventually succumbing in seven games. If there is any rust on the Heat's game, the Pistons will certainly aim to exploit it on Tuesday night.

"We don't get the rest, but it's also a situation with Miami where they haven't played in a while, so you never know how that can turn out," Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said. "It feels good to have three or four days off, but when you have a little bit longer, I think you get out of rhythm a little bit."

The Heat's company line of late has had nothing to do with any revenge factor from losing to Detroit last season -- which really isn't surprising, considering several members of this Miami team weren't around for that defeat.

Over the last week, Miami's players have said repeatedly that they'll be ready for whichever opponent emerged from the Cleveland-Detroit series. And at long last, they know who the foe is.

"You have to get through the team that's in your way, no matter who it is," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "Right now it's Detroit. We've got a tough job ahead of us. We understand that, but we're looking forward to it."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press