Ol' men Payton, Mourning give Heat a lift

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- There's really only one reason why
Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning are still playing.

It's not stats; they have more than 35,000 points in 2,100-plus
games over 29 seasons. Not respect, since that was earned long ago
by 16 All-Star nods and three defensive player of the year awards.
And not money, given the combined $230 million in salary they've
commanded in their careers.

No, the lure is an NBA title. And in the playoffs, the Miami
Heat's two eldest men have played big roles -- while edging closer
to that elusive championship ring.

"You're talking about guys that are future Hall of Famers,"
Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "And there's a reason why they're
future Hall of Famers. It's because they didn't settle for just
getting a big contract or whatever. They always wanted to get the
most out of their opportunity. This is their opportunity."

So far, they've been taking advantage.

Neither has big scoring numbers, but their presence --
particularly on the defensive end -- has been crucial for the Heat,
who'll try to take a 2-0 lead over Detroit when the Eastern
Conference finals resume Thursday.

"I've always been around veteran guys and they have the
experience, they have the know-how," Heat coach Pat Riley said.
"As long as their head's screwed on straight, I think in these
kinds of games the savvy and the experience comes in handy."

Payton is averaging 9.0 points on 58 percent shooting in his
last five games, with only one turnover in his last 131 minutes.

He played his best game of these playoffs in Tuesday's Game 1
victory over against Detroit. He scored 14 points on 6-for-8
shooting, taking over as an offensive leader when Shaquille O'Neal
and Dwyane Wade were out with foul trouble, plus helping defend
Pistons guard Chauncey Billups superbly as Miami won 91-86.

Billups averaged 21 points in the 2004 NBA Finals, when Payton --
then with O'Neal's Los Angeles Lakers -- struggled against him. Many
speculated Payton simply couldn't play anymore; Billups knew

"He wasn't washed up at all," said Billups, who was 6-for-19
from the floor in Game 1. "That's the reason people keep taking
him because they know he's capable of having nights like he had
last night and even bigger that that."

Mourning is 7-for-7 from the field in his last two games and
shooting 79 percent in the playoffs, on top of his usual yeomanlike
work in the rebounding, shot-blocking and shot-altering categories.
He had six points, four rebounds and two blocks in Game 1.

Only two reserves -- Dallas' Erick Dampier (19) and the Pistons'
Antonio McDyess (11) -- have more blocked shots than Mourning's 10
so far in these playoffs. They've done it with an average of 23
minutes per game, or more than twice as many as Mourning has logged
per game in the playoffs.

"We've got seven more games to win," Mourning said. "That's
how we're looking at it. We have seven more games to win. And every
step forward is a step closer to us accomplishing our goal. This is
what we spoke of before the playoffs even started."

McDyess can relate to Payton and Mourning's hunger for a title.
He's the only player among Detroit's top seven without a
championship -- and cried when the Pistons lost in Game 7 of last
year's finals against San Antonio.

"It's all about the winning and rings," McDyess said. "The
money is good, but you want to have something to show for what you
played for."

That's exactly why Payton came to Miami.

He was a part-time starter for the first time, making 56 reserve
appearance this season -- after making only six in his first 15 NBA
seasons. Before this year, the last time Payton didn't start a
regular-season game that he appeared in was during the 1992-93
campaign, his third in the league.

"You make sacrifices," Payton said. "You sacrifice yourself.
Do you want to possibly win a championship? Or do you want to be
the same person you were when you were 20 and get those same
numbers? I've got a lot of stats. I did a lot of stuff. So I'm not
really worried about that right now. That's over with."