Miami — The regular season is little more than a necessary evil for the two-time champion Miami Heat, while it means everything for the Detroit Pistons at their stage of development.
This time last year, on Feb. 3 to be exact, the Heat began their historic 27-game winning streak that fell six games short of the all-time record set by the 1972 Lakers.
So it’s safe to say the boredom that comes with being a defending champion waiting on the playoffs decals to appear on various floors is just about over.
“This is the time of year where you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the time right before the break is important,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “We have the road trip after tonight. We’re coming off a stretch where quite frankly we weren’t playing well.”
Spoelstra isn’t leaning on past experience as a sense of security. He’s clear that putting together extended points of outstanding basketball is almost a demand at this point.
“Each year is different. There may not be that pivotal moment in the season where, OK, everything clicks after that,” Spoelstra said. “You have to work for it and it happens in different ways.
“You put in the time and collectively everybody’s putting their energies in preparation, toward getting your mind right, your bodies right — I don’t find it a coincidence everybody plays well.”
LeBron James is posting numbers that lead many to believe he’s “coasting,” although putting up 26 points, six rebounds and six assists is hard to equate to such a term, but dealing with the prospect of going to four NBA Finals in a row is as mentally taxing on a team as it is physically.
Dwyane Wade is on a “maintenance program” for his troublesome left knee issues, playing nearly two-thirds of games with Spoelstra still finding ways to best utilize a superstar at the tail end of his physical prime.
Maintaining focus is a test in itself for both teams, for separate reasons, and the way the respective coaches talk about their teams is the biggest difference. Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for baby steps of improvement, considering their season-long up-and-down play.
“We’ve won our last two games,” Cheeks said before the game. “We’re trying to get some consistent plays defensively and offensively that’s where we have to get to.
“Watching the Miami Heat play, we see they’re very consistent in how they play and that’s where we have to get to. In order to be great, you have to (first) be consistent and that’s what they do.”
The Pistons entered Monday’s game hoping to lean on the experience of winning a game in Miami’s building, while you couldn’t tell if the Heat players were even aware the Pistons stole a game there on Dec. 3. The Pistons fell by 6, 102-96, Monday.
“They start zoning in on the things they need to do, the things that aren’t going well,” Cheeks said. “To get themselves in position to get ready for the playoffs and winning another championship. They’re consistent in what they do.”
Billups backs Broncos
Chauncey Billups proudly wore a Denver Broncos T-shirt that read “For Life,” clearly showing his fandom despite the Broncos getting beat 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday by the Seattle Seahawks.
The Denver native said the Seahawks reminded him of the 2004 Pistons that won the NBA title, a young, defensive-minded team led by a charismatic coach.
“With the way they were hitting us (the Broncos), I couldn’t even be mad,” Billups said. “They played great defense all season long. I hadn’t paid that much attention to them until the playoffs. They surprised me.”