The two best teams in the Eastern Conference, Detroit and Miami, will play for the right to move on and play in the NBA Finals. Hey, weve got a rivalry here: Big Daddy Shaq vs. Big Ben Wallace, South Beach glitter vs. factory blue collar, Flash Wade vs. Rip Hamilton, North vs. South.
Relatively trim at 72 325 lbs., Shaq ONeil is the key to the series. With an injured thigh muscle, ONeil has missed several games down the stretch of this season. I believe he will suit up for every game, though probably at about 50% to 75% of his ability.
Shaq at only half of his physical capacity is still one of the best players in the NBA. When running on all cylinders, he is the most dominant basketball player in history. If you disagree, try imagining Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul Jabbar battling the defenses emphasized in this modern era. No contest, ONeil is the best.
Fortunately for the Heat, they acquired rough and tumble Alonzo Mourning as insurance for ONeil this season. For short stretches, Mourning is still an All-Star center. Together, ONeil and Mourning equal one healthy, unstoppable force.
Drafted two years ago behind Darko Milicic, Miamis Dwayne Wade has already become the best point guard in the league. Wade is so good that Miami would have a chance to beat Detroit - without Shaq. Detroit has no answer for Wade. He is quicker and stronger than any of their guards and almost unstoppable when the game is on the line in the last few minutes.
Unlike the L.A. Lakers, where Shaq toiled last season, the Miami Heat play as a team. Remember how the Pistons defense stymied Kobe Bryant when he hogged the ball for long stretches during last years NBA Finals? Why do you think Shaq and Coach Phil Jackson both left the Lakers after their humiliating performance against the Pistons? Like Detroit, Miami plays defense and without ego.
The Heat offer much more than two of the best players in the league. Another ex-Laker, Eddie Jones, is just one more option Miami can turn to for scoring. A demon on defense, whomever Jones covers is in for a low-scoring series. Guard Damon Jones is a deadly three-point shooter and Heat forward, Udonis Haslem, is Ben-Wallace-like in his quest for rebounds.
One of Miamis big advantages over Detroit in this series is their depth. Their bench is flooded with role players like Mourning, Keyon Dooling, Christian Laettner, Michael Doleac, and even MSUs Steve Smith, who can all fill in with a big game. The Pistons rely mostly on their starters and they should be gasping for air the longer this series endures.
Despite all the reasons stated above, Detroit will not go away easily. They are a prideful, resilient team that thrives when their backs are against the wall. This series will be a war, played out over seven games. When the dust clears - expect the Miami Heat to be still standing. Barely.