Mourning prepared to start if Shaq can't

The Detroit Pistons aren't as deep as 2003-04. They no longer possess strong bench players such as Corliss Williamson, Mike James and Mehmet Okur. While Antonio McDyess has been an important addition, the Pistons doesn't get consistent production from others on their second unit.

With or without Shaquille O'Neal in the lineup, Miami Heat backup center Alonzo Mourning believes Detroit is ripe for the taking as the teams will square off in the Eastern Conference opener Monday night in Miami.

"They're defending champions but they can be beat," Mourning said in the New York Post. "They've shown their vulnerabilities. They're not invincible. They're not the Chicago Bulls. They can be beat.

"We're going to be ready and they better be ready because it's going to be an all-out war. It's supposed to be. It's the Eastern Conference Finals. We're playing for a big prize here."

O'Neal remains a question mark because of his bruised right thigh that has limited his availability to practice 100 percent. In the team's final tuneup on Sunday, Shaq participated in shooting drills, rode a stationary bike and worked on plays with team, but did not fully practice.

Mourning is prepared to step in if Shaq can't go. Mourning, averaging nearly eight points and six rebounds in 17.4 minutes in the playoffs, can empathize with Shaq's situation. The former New Jersey Nets standout was diagnosed with a potentially fatal kidney ailment some five years ago.

"I love Shaq like a brother," Mourning told the newspaper. "It's unfortunate he has to deal with something like this at this time of year because it's where he made his staple in the game -- in the playoffs. It's unfortunate he's unable to produce the way he wants to. But the body is a funny thing.

"I've had to deal with things being out of my control. And it's humbled me. You have to sit back and wait for the body to heal up. The fans look at us as superhuman robots but we're not. We're human beings."