- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

MIAMI — Dwyane Wade’s health could play a part in Larry Brown’s immediate future.

Wade’s availability for Game7 of the Eastern Conference finals between Miami and Detroit tonight was still unknown yesterday, but whether the Heat’s leading scorer can play may be a major contributing factor whether Brown will be coaching for the final time.

The winner of tonight’s game advances to the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, while the loser will have the whole summer to wonder what went wrong, and why.

In Brown’s case, he’ll head to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., shortly after the Pistons’ season ends — as soon as tomorrow, or as late as June24 — to address a medical problem that developed after complications from hip surgery. If surgeons are not able to correct it, Brown plans to retire from coaching.

So there’s a lot riding on Game7 for both teams, but more so for the 64-year-old coaching nomad than anyone else.

“I told my wife before the game there was a thought [that it might be his last game], because you have so much time it seems before games,” Brown said yesterday before the Pistons traveled to Miami. “So hopefully we can keep playing.”

There was no official update on whether Wade will be available for the biggest game in franchise history. The team said the situation with Wade’s strained ribcage muscle was “status quo.”

Wade’s agent, Henry Thomas, said the decision to sit out Game6 was made after Wade consulted with the Heat’s medical staff. Thomas said Wade was “felling better,” but it was “too soon to tell” whether he would play tonight.

Detroit played its best game of the series in defeating the Heat 91-66 Saturday night to even the series at three games apiece.

Wade’s teammates couldn’t come close to winning without him in Game6, finishing with the lowest postseason point total in franchise history.

“We didn’t lose the series tonight. We worked hard all year long, won 59 games, for one reason, and that’s to have home court in a Game7 situation,” Heat guard Damon Jones said after Game6. “That’s the positive that we have in front of us at this point in time.”

But unless the Heat get Wade back, or find an easier way to get the ball to Shaquille O’Neal, it’s unlikely there will be any positives by the end of Game7.

Detroit was able to use ball pressure in the backcourt and different defensive looks in the frontcourt to stifle Miami’s ability to get the ball to O’Neal in the low post. O’Neal shot 11-for-18 and scored a team-high 24 points, but Detroit’s defense kept him from being a much bigger offensive focal point.

“That’s what we tried to do, give him different looks, as opposed to always being behind him,” Rasheed Wallace said. “Just try to find a little bit of [double-teaming] early, throw him off, keep him off-balance.”

Saturday night was the first time the Pistons faced elimination from the postseason, and the victory lent credence to Detroit’s growing reputation as a team that plays its best when the stakes are highest. The Pistons came back from a 3-2 deficit last season against New Jersey en route to winning the championship, and they trailed Indiana 2-1 in the second round last month before winning the next three games.

To prepare his team for Game6, Brown showed the Pistons snippets of their playoff victories over the Nets, Pacers and Lakers last season.

“When I was with Philly I used to show Kirk Gibson, Isiah [Thomas] getting up on one leg, Willis Reed coming into the Garden,” Brown said.

If Brown’s inspirational messages sink in, it’ll show on the court in the way the Pistons move and protect the ball.

Detroit had a 24 to 6 assist-to-turnover ratio in Game6 to Miami’s 15 to 16, and the Pistons turned many of the Heat’s mistakes into fast-break opportunities and easy baskets.

Brown wants the Pistons to play with maximum effort while staying loose.

“The magnitude of the game, you don’t want to worry about losing. I don’t think you ever perform when you’re thinking about losing or making mistakes,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t worry about anything negative at all. Just go out, have fun and do your best. Go for it and see what happens.”

Miami has not played a Game7 since the first round of the 2004 playoffs when it defeated New Orleans — but that win was a rarity.

Some of the darkest days in franchise history have happened on the Heat’s home court in winner-take-all games, including losses to the New York Knicks in 1998, 1999 and 2000. But those losses were back in the pre-Shaq era, and O’Neal has had plenty of experience with the pressure of Game7s.

“Anybody that steps into that arena that’s not ready, it’s going to expose,” said Miami center Alonzo Mourning, the lone link to the Heat’s often miserable past.

The Heat do have some historical trends on their side.

In Game7 history, the home team is 74-16. And teams that have been blown out in Game6s rarely have let that letdown carry over.

Over the last 40 years, there have been 17 instances of teams taking 3-2 leads into Game6 and losing by more than 15 points. But 15 of those teams came back to win Game7, including O’Neal’s Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference finals.

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