Updated: April 7, 2006, 11:29 AM ET

What were the Heat thinking?

While watching the Detroit Pistons go into Miami on Thursday and beat the Heat in their final regular-season meeting, 95-82, I saw a lot of things that are going to have to change if the Heat hope to earn a return trip to the conference finals.

And it isn't as simple as getting Alonzo Mourning, Jason Williams and James Posey healthy.

This is a team that makes a lot of mental mistakes. Dwyane Wade's numbers (29 points, nine rebounds, six assists) don't tell the whole story. He had stretches in this game where his mental errors cost his team. When he tried to force it offensively, he then didn't get back in transition. This is the kind of thing that kills your momentum.

His inexperience showed in letting Rip Hamilton getting under his skin -- this is playoff-level basketball. You can't allow anybody to take you out of your game. The margin of error is so small at this level when you're playing the Detroit Pistons.

Another flaw: the Heat fail to keep Shaq constantly involved offensively. I don't think they run the offense through him enough.

Any time Shaq's getting one assist, the offensive focus is off. He's a point center who can pass out of double teams. But Shaq can't pass the ball to himself -- they have to involve him. Shaq had 28 points in 36 minutes, and yes, his foul trouble hurt, but there were stretches in the third quarter when he wasn't involved. And if they expect Wade to do it in place of Shaq, it's going to be difficult, because Detroit likes to make him play in a crowd.

Of note, Shaq has something of a point in his recent complaints about the way he is officiated. But as Shaq gets older, he's not as quick. Miami has to do a better job defensively, because some of those calls are going to come when he's helping on D.

So there's these mental aspects that need fixing. And even so, if Miami's not healthy, at this point I don't know if they even get past New Jersey.

Detroit, meanwhile, does so many things well. They shoot the 3 (made 5-of-12 in the win) and defend it well too, keeping the Heat scoreless in 10 tries from behind the arc. They understand how to get the ball to the right player and the right time, finding Tayshaun Prince (20 points) frequently. And they have a veteran like Tony Delk who comes off the bench and has 12 points in 12 minutes, on 6-for-7 shooting.

This was a big statement by the Pistons. When you can go on a road and beat the Heat likes this, it says something.

What does it say about Shaq's team? I don't think Miami's strong enough mentally to beat Detroit.

ESPN NBA analyst Greg Anthony played for six NBA teams in 11 seasons.

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Feed The 'Sheed

Victor Baldizon/Getty Images
Rasheed Wallace, right, goes for two of his 20 points. The Pistons (61-14) won their sixth straight and need three more wins to set the franchise's single-season mark for Ws.

Decline Time

Most Dominant Ever.

That's how Shaquille O'Neal describes himself, and that's how a lot of NBA observers would describe him, as well. The 7-foot behemoth has absolutely dominated the league since arriving on the scene in 1992, winning three championships, taking five other clubs as far as the conference finals and earning first team All-NBA honors seven times.

For this reason, most opponents still reflexively cower at the mere mention of Shaq. However, even the most enthusiastic Shaqophiles must admit that his game has slipped this year. The evidence, in fact, is overwhelming. Shaq is averaging career lows in points, blocks, steals, assists, rebounds, minutes, free-throw attempts and field-goal attempts. In fact, the only category in which he could post a career high is fouls; despite playing far fewer minutes than ever before (just 30.5 a game), Shaq has been whistled 3.9 times per game.

Overall, Shaq is still a star player -- find me somebody else who gets 20 per game while shooting 59 percent -- but it's clear that he's no longer the league's dominant force. Whereas O'Neal once led the league in player efficiency rating (PER) for five straight seasons and hasn't ranked lower than fourth since his rookie season, this season he's plummeted all the way to ninth. And when his Miami team needs a basket, it's usually Dwyane Wade, not O'Neal, who gets the call.

This isn't breaking news, obviously, but Shaq's decline this season has important ramifications for his team. This is especially true because of the new contract Shaq signed before the season, paying him $100 million over five years (including this season). Between O'Neal's deal, the maximum contract that Dwyane Wade is certain to sign this summer and a few other contracts (such as those of Antoine Walker and Udonis Haslem), the Heat will be capped out through 2010. And since owner Mickey Arison is averse to paying luxury tax, the Heat don't have the "Isiah option" of just taking on a slew of bad contracts and hoping for the best.

See the full John Hollinger story Insider

Shooting Questions About LeBron

Users react to B.J. Armstrong's April 6 Daily Dime in which he says LeBron James should have taken the last shot against the Knicks.

B.J. Armstrong is right. LeBron did pass the final exam, in fact, he passed with flying colors. LeBron did just what he needed to do for the team. By passing the ball to Larry Hughes for the final shot he is proving how smart of a basketball player he is becoming. The Cavs have all but wrapped up the fourth spot in the East, the benefit of Hughes hitting that shot would have far outweighed the benefit of winning that game.

LeBron proved he could score at will in the fourth quarter, he could have easily sent that game into overtime, but how big would that shot have been for Hughes? He is just getting his legs back and how big would that shot have been for his confidence going into the playoffs. LeBron knew just what he was doing and it is scenarios like that one that proves he is the best overall player in the league.
-- Donald Gibson (Cleveland)

C'mon man, LeBron did EXACTLY what he was supposed to do at the end of the game. He drew the double/triple team and passed the ball to the guy that was wide open. If he had taken that shot with three guys on him, he would have been shillacked for that too! Give the guy a break. He is the definition of MVP, because if he weren't on the team, the Cavs would be nowhere near where they are now. Most VALUABLE player.
--Eric (Cleveland)

Isn't B.J. Armstrong the same guy Jordan and Pippen looked to for game-winning shots in the NBA FINALS against Phoenix? LeBron passed the ball because Larry was WIDE open, just like the play was written up. And this game was not nearly as important as the Finals. This play was most likely drawn up more to give Larry some confidence coming back from injury. Don't blame LeBron for the missed shot, we wouldn't have blamed Jordan/Pippen if B.J. missed...
-- Khari, Oakland

Maybe the reason LeBron dished is the same reason high school-to-the-NBA players seem not to do well in the playoffs. (PRESSURE)! Except for Kobe name the top high school guys to the NBA and see how they do in the playoffs and clutch situations not great. Kobe will be interesting to watch this year with the Lakers in the playoffs and he finally gets to lead the team. The only other guy to do well in the playoffs from high school is Moses Malone. Chocolate Thunder Darryl Dawkins made it to the finals but never won. So watch these guys handle the pressure and see if they can finally win something besides a shoe contract or an endorsement before winning any kind of championship, besides their AAU tournaments?
-- Tom, Tampa

Golden Nuggets

Carmelo Anthony's jumper with 3.8 seconds left in overtime gave the Nuggets a 110-108 win over the Lakers on Thursday night. Kobe Bryant, who had 42, now has 2,584 points this season. The last player to get more than 2,500 points in a season. ... MJ, 16 years ago.

Dan Patrick Show: Kobe on MVP Insider

'Melo Wins It

Jersey Judgment

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Richard Jefferson after his Nets won their 14th straight: "The Nets, since I've been here, are going to be judged by how you play in the playoffs. You win a lot of games in the regular season, we're still going to be judged by how you play in the playoffs."

Extreme Behavior

Thursday's Best
Nets F Richard Jefferson: Scored a season-high 40 points, Jason Kidd had his 74th triple-double, and New Jersey extended the longest winning streak in the NBA this season to 14 by beating the Bobcats 113-102


Thursday's Worst
Heat F Antoine Walker: This is about the time Miami needs that third scorer to step up. But 'Toine's 3-for-11, six-point effort in 32 minutes was not what the doctor ordered against Detroit.


Quote of the Day
"Against a team like that, you have to do everything right. Once again, they capitalized off our mistakes. They just played well. When we play that team, we have to do everything right."
-- Heat center Shaquille O'Neal, after his team lost 95-82 to the Pistons.

See how all 183 who played stacked up

The current NBA Playoff matchups

Seeing A Nets-Pistons Final

Trims (Holmdel, NJ): Can the New Jersey Nets win the Eastern Conference? Kidd and Jefferson have proven playoff toughness. Vince Carter has not. Vince is the key, yes or no?

Chad Ford: If the Pistons weren't in the East . . . I'd say yes. I think they're playing better ball than the Heat and would probably take them in a seven-game series. I think the Nets could push the Pistons to a seven-game series, but I think Detroit comes out on top.

Steve Chicago: Is it more beneficial for a team such as the Bulls to make the playoffs, or miss the playoffs and get a lottery pick?

Chad Ford: Playoffs. Bulls have a young team and the playoff experience will be good for them. Besides there's not that much difference between the 12th pick in the draft and the 20th. Lots of parity this year. I honestly think that the Bulls will try to package their picks this summer in a trade if they can. They have enough young players. What they need right now is some veteran balance.

Eric (Indy): Will my Pacers even make the playoffs the way they are playing right now?

Chad Ford: I think so. Jermaine O'Neal is finally back. It's going to take a little bit of time to reintergrate everyone back in. But if the Pacers are all healthy come playoff time, they could give whoever they face (probably the Heat or the Nets) a very difficult time.

Kevin (Villanova, PA): Chad, how impressed are you with the Clippers' past 2 wins? They never should have given up 77 in the 1st half to Denver but their desire to compete was amazing.

Chad Ford: They look great, but hate that first round match-up with Dallas that's coming. It's a shame, they're the fourth best team in the West, but will have to play the second best team in the West in the first round. But the future is bright in LA. I was really impressed with the way they handled the Suns in Phoenix last night. I thought Shaun Livingston outplayed Steve Nash using his length to give Nash all sorts of problems. That could be key for them down the road.

See the Chad Ford chat Insider

Elias Says

The Nets extended their winning streak to 14 games on the strength of Richard Jefferson's 40 points, Jason Kidd's triple-double and Vince Carter's 20 points. That's an unusual trifecta. In only one other NBA game in the last 10 years did a team have one player with 40-plus points, another player with a triple double and a third player with 20-plus points. Charlotte did it on March 6, 1997 -- 48 points for Glen Rice, a triple-double for Anthony Mason and 23 points for Vlade Divac -- in an overtime win against Boston.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

NBA Intelligence Report

Frank Cares About History
If anyone objected to Jason Kidd joining the garbage time brigade so that he could grab a single rebound and record his 74th triple-double, the guys who know him offer some advice: "He was going for NBA history," said Richard Jefferson, whose 40 points were a direct byproduct of Kidd's 12 assists. "I'm going for personal history. NBA history is another thing." Lawrence Frank admitted he was torn himself, though hardly apologetic. "I don't know if there's a right or wrong answer," the Nets coach said after his team's 113-102 victory over Charlotte. "But look, the guy is busting his chops. I didn't mean to disrespect the game or disrespect the Bobcats, but I felt strongly with how hard he was playing that he deserved to get it." -- Newark Star-Ledger

Read the entire Intelligence Report Insider


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