At stake for the Detroit Pistons in Game 6 against the Miami Heat is so much more than their NBA playoff lives. The outcome will go a long way toward determining whether history will view them as a fluke champion.
Try to find an NBA champion that didn't win at least two titles in a span of four years, and it takes some searching. There hasn't been one since the Philadelphia 76ers of 1982-1983.
The Pistons' ultimate legacy won't be known for another few years, but their short-term impact on people's long-term perceptions will be based in large part on how they perform on Saturday in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals -- and possibly in Game 7 on Monday back in Miami.
"Saying it was a fluke because they only won it once, that's not what we want to leave associated with this team," Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter said on Friday after the Pistons watched film and shot around casually in the afternoon following their 88-76 loss.
It remained uncertain whether the Heat would have Dwyane Wade available for Game 6 after he strained a right rib muscle in Game 5. Wade, who did not practice or speak to the media on Friday, has been Miami's leading scorer in the playoffs, averaging 27 points in the five games against Detroit.
"There's a lot of things that might happen," Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He doesn't feel good."
While the Heat worried about Wade, the Pistons concerned themselves with trying to find a way to get Rasheed Wallace more involved in the offense and less involved in controversy.
Wallace scored just two points and attempted only three shots in Game 5, drawing a technical foul after he went to the bench following his third offensive foul of the night. After the game, he made an expletive-laced prediction that Detroit would win Game 7, using conspiratorial language to suggest that the outcome was already predetermined -- an allegation that resulted in the NBA fining him US$20,000.
One of the biggest factors that has escaped closer inspection is the lack of production being generated by Ben Wallace, who has begun every game defending Miami center Shaquille O'Neal in single coverage -- but without much success.
O'Neal again made his first four shots on Thursday, the third time in the series he has done so. Wallace has grabbed double-figure rebounds just once in the past three games, and he hasn't scored more than 10 points since Game 1.
"If you're the defensive player of the year, show me," O'Neal said. "Show me. If you say you want to play me one-on-one, show me."
If Detroit doesn't win, it'll validate some of the arguments that the Pistons -- the first team without a bona fide superstar to win a title since the 1978-1979 Seattle SuperSonics -- were a one-year wonder that was fortunate enough to run into a Los Angeles Lakers team in the midst of imploding from internal friction.
"This isn't so much about our legacy, but we do want to repeat. We want to be one of the elite teams," Hunter said. "Not many teams can repeat, and we want to be one of them."
Denver Nuggets coach George Karl was suspended for the first three regular-season games of the 2005-2006 season and the team was fined US$200,000 by the NBA on Friday for violating rules prohibiting contact with players not yet eligible for the NBA draft.
The league said the violation occurred from May 16-18, when Karl attended workouts at Marquette University involving a player who is not eligible for this year's draft, which will take place on June 28.