Circus comes to The Palace
Feb. 11, 2011
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - All that was missing were some lion tamers, bears and elephants Friday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The circus, with three glorious rings of action, was in town, as the Miami Heat took on the Detroit Pistons.
The Heat is clearly the circus, bringing the excitement, technical skills and drama of a good traveling production. And the Pistons, well, they're more like the beat-up clown car these days.
The Heat cruised past the Pistons, 106-92, without breaking much of a sweat.
One ring had the Heat (39-14) showing off their growing superiority in the Eastern Conference, as the win moved them a half-game up into first place for the first time this season. The other contender close to the top, the Celtics (38-14), didn't play Friday, but could regain their spot when they play the Heat Sunday in Boston.
Another ring showed off the Heat's skill and acrobatics. The handwriting was on the wall early, ordaining a Heat blowout, when LeBron James raced down the floor on a fast break, with Dwyane Wade filling the lane ahead to his left.
They were the two fastest on the floor, with James floating up a perfect alley-oop pass and Wade jamming it home. The game was only three minutes old, and the Heat were already treating the Pistons like hapless prey.
James nearly posted his fourth career triple-double, with 16 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, plus four steals.
"You guys don't know me by now?" James asked reporters after the game. "I don't play for individual stats. I play to win. We got the win, that's all that matters."
Wade led all scorers with 24 points.
James said playing in Detroit, against the Pistons, brings back a lot of memories and some added competitive fire for him.
"Absolutely, me and Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) were talking about that before the game," James said. "We've had some real battles in this building as a members of the Cavaliers.
"It's crazy to see where it's come for myself individually, for Z individually, and for us as a team. To look at back in the day, to see what kind of battles we had."
And the final ring of the circus had a little drama and tension, as James jawed with the fans sitting in back of the Heat bench. They made friendly fun of him during pregame, and he shot back with his own lighthearted jabs.
Things turned a bit testier as the Pistons increasingly fell behind by more and more. A male fan, sitting well within earshot, taunted James by asking, "Is your mother going to Boston for Valentine's Day?"
That barb stopped James in his tracks. He had been relaxing by the scorer's table during a timeout.
James turned around, faced the fan.
"I don't give a (expletive) what you say about me, don't be disrespectful," James said. "That's all I ask."
Security warned the fan, the taunts stopped and the Heat continued to pound the Pistons.
Just another night under the big top.
Still, Heat coach Eric Spoelstra doesn't want his team to get caught up in the hoopla.
He's taking the cliched, but tried-and-true tack, of trying to have his players stay focused while playing lesser teams. The All-Star break also looms, which can become a distraction for players looking too far ahead.
James and Wade were voted in as starters, while Chris Bosh is a reserve for the Eastern Conference.
But until the break comes in a week, it's full speed ahead for the Heat.
"No question, our trust the last three weeks has improved, and we're seeing the residual benefits," Spoelstra said. "Everybody can be involved in the attack. The more dangerous we are is when we get more balance and everybody is a live option.
"The ceiling for us, we don't necessarily know that that is, but we can go to another level or two as we clear out these games before the break."
Spoelstra's current mantra is onward and upward, trying to make the regular season mean something to the Heat.
"We understand what the moment is right now," Spoelstra said. "We don't want to miss it. That's what our focus is.
"If we take care of how we're capable of playing, everything else will fall into place."
The Heat's superstar trio accomplished an unusual feat for the Pistons this season, selling out The Palace. That rarely happens in Detroit these days, thanks to a completely mediocre basketball team and a stressed economy. Throw in a running dysfunctional relationship between coaches and players, and the once-filled Palace is now a half-full, or even less, arena on most nights.
But the Heat comes to town for the first time this season, on a frigid February night, and voila, the place is filled. The Heat draw 19,210 fans for their road games, and the Pistons can only draw 16,512 for their home games.
That's solid proof of a pretty damned good circus.
Wait until the Heat's big top gets it really going in the playoffs. Cue the organ grinder . . .