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If Wade Is One-Sided, the Game Might Be Too

June 06, 2005|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — The plot lines are crowded together, single file, each one as important as the next.

Is tonight Larry Brown's last game with the Detroit Pistons, if not the final game of a coaching career that began in 1973 with the ABA's Carolina Cougars?

How much will Dwyane Wade's strained rib muscle hinder him in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals?

Can the Pistons add to a legacy that began with last year's five-game NBA Finals dominance of the Lakers?

Will Shaquille O'Neal make the Finals for the fifth time in six years, and get a chance to deliver on a promise to bring a championship to the Miami Heat?

It was O'Neal who invigorated a franchise that had been to the Eastern Conference finals only once -- a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Bulls in 1997 -- in its docile 17-season existence.

He was sent from the Lakers to the Heat last July, helping turn a 42-40 team into the top-seeded team in the East. The hyperbole began almost as soon as he hit the South Beach sand.

"Remember this," he told thousands of fans at a Miami mini-parade a week after the trade. "I'm going to bring a championship to Miami. I promise."

There wasn't nearly as much swagger in the Heat locker room after Saturday's 91-66 loss.

O'Neal, who has been slowed by a bruised thigh, was humbled -- "I've just got to do a better job of getting the guys ready," he said -- and Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy was without answers.

"After the first quarter, they totally dominated us and I really don't have a lot else to tell you," he said.

Point guard Damon Jones might have been the only member of the Heat to maintain an edge. He spoke as if the Heat held a 3-0 lead, scoffing at a question about the Pistons' comeback against the New Jersey Nets after being down, 3-2, in last season's East semifinals.

"We're not New Jersey," he said. "Period."

He also hinted his vacation plans would be put on hold for about another two weeks.

"Good thing about this situation, we're going home and we've been good at home all year long and, you know, you win or go home," he said. "And I don't fish."

Then again, Jones had only seven points in 37 minutes Saturday.

The Pistons were relatively quiet Sunday -- forward Rasheed Wallace, specifically -- although no players were made available to the media. Only Brown spoke about the importance of Game 7 before the Pistons climbed aboard their afternoon charter flight.

"When you're growing up as a kid, I'm sure you think about these things," he said. "There were so many great rivalries in our league. Boston and the Lakers. Chicago. Magic [Johnson] talked about playing three Game 7s in one championship run when they won the [1988] title. I remember being with Rudy [Tomjanovich] in 2000 and he talked about all the elimination games they faced when they won [with the Houston Rockets in 1995]. I don't think it gets much better than this and I hope it's a great game. It's good for our league."

Brown, 64, has been bothered by hip and bladder problems and will undergo surgery after the season, perhaps leaving the sideline for good if numerous media reports that he will become the Cleveland Cavaliers' president are accurate.

A coaching career flickered in front of him before Game 6, he acknowledged.

"I thought about it," he said. "But I also know I want to do this. One, I hope we can keep playing for this team. That's the most important thing."

The Pistons might be able to do so if Wade's injury is no better. The Heat guard sat out Saturday's game, taking with him the 28 points, 6.8 assists and 6.1 rebounds he is averaging in the playoffs. He is expected to give it a try tonight, with the weight of a city on his shoulders.

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