Miami hopes to turn up heat in Game 3
MIAMI -- Only two days ago, the Miami Heat seemed relaxed and confident as they held a one-game lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
With that cushion now gone, they simply seem angry.
Shaquille O'Neal wants the ball more, repeating his refrain from last season's playoffs. Dwyane Wade is growing increasingly frustrated about tactics the Detroit Pistons use against him defensively. Pat Riley made little effort to hide his disappointment in the lack of energy and effort that doomed the Heat in Game 2.
All those tenets add another several levels of intrigue to Saturday's pivotal third game of the series, with the Heat and Pistons knotted at a game apiece.
"They feel that they're the best team," Wade said. "They feel like every time that they lose, it's because of them. ... We don't get any credit. We've got to go out and earn it. We don't deserve any, evidently, so we've got to go out and continue to earn our credit -- and that's by going out and winning this series."
Detroit took a 25-12 lead after the first quarter of Game 2 and pushed the margin to as many as 18 points in the second half, before hanging on for a 92-88 victory. The Heat scored 17 points in a 97-second span to get within two with 9.8 seconds left, a furious rally that ultimately failed.
Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said he thought the way Miami closed Game 2 may have swiped some momentum away from his team.
"I think it can," Prince said Thursday night. "But hopefully it won't and hopefully we just build on what we did before that happened."
The Pistons did not make players available for comment Friday.
Game 3 will mark the Pistons' eighth contest in 14 days, so coach Flip Saunders opted not to practice Friday -- just as he did Wednesday in an effort to let his team bottle some energy for game time. Detroit got to its swanky Key Biscayne hotel about 90 minutes behind schedule Friday afternoon, after some weather problems apparently delayed its flight to South Florida.
"It's always nice to get refreshed a little bit," Saunders said Friday. "More than anything else, the time off gives us the chance to be more mentally alert. It becomes more of a mental game than a physical game. We're just trying to keep our guys mentally sharp and keep them as physically healthy as we can."
For as vaunted a defensive team as the Pistons are -- a well-deserved reputation, and especially so after their 64-win regular season -- they haven't been able to truly stop Wade and O'Neal in this series.
The Heat's two superstars shot 59 percent and averaged 46 points -- more than half the team's scoring -- in the first two games.
"I think we need to focus on getting it inside," O'Neal said after Game 2. "We took way too many jump shots. ... We were just trying to make jump shots and that's not our game. We have to get inside and send it back out."
Wade said the Heat will happily try to comply with that request.
"You want to keep the big man happy," Wade said. "And evidently, he wasn't. He wanted more touches and that'll be a focus going into the game tomorrow."
Another focus for the Heat -- in particular, Wade -- is finding ways to neutralize the varied looks that the Pistons throw their way on the defensive end.
Wade is shooting 20-for-31 in the series, but he's not in a great rhythm; he's also averaging seven turnovers so far, and he clearly is angered by how hands-on the Pistons are allowed to be when defending him.
"I'm not a complainer, man," Wade said. "You all see it. You all watch the games."
Saunders said the Pistons are simply using their normal tricks, and that a little extra effort is to be expected at this point in the season.
"We just play how we play," Saunders said. "Both teams, as a playoff series progresses, the stakes become higher. When the stakes become higher, both teams become more intense. Things become a little bit chippy."
There's a complicated formula the Heat use to calculate effort and efficiency after each game, with at least 25 variables involved in the equation. The numbers showed that Miami's levels were 17 percent below where they ranked in Game 1, although Riley really didn't have to use his math skills to see that.
And, he hopes, seeing it all on tape again Friday should have provided all the motivation the Heat will need.
"I should not have to hit a veteran team over the head," Riley said. "You paint the picture. You get them ready and you turn them loose. You hope that isn't an issue and I don't think it will be."
In other news, Saunders denied radio reports out of Detroit that point guard Chauncey Billups has an ankle injury. "There's nothing physically wrong with Chauncey. He's not hurt," Saunders said.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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