AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) – At stake for the Detroit Pistons in Game 6 against the Miami Heat is so much more than their playoff lives. The outcome will go a long way toward determining whether history will view them as a fluke champion.

Go back into the record books and try to find an NBA champion that didn’t win at least two titles in a span of four years, and it takes some scrolling. There hasn’t been one since the Philadelphia 76ers of 1982-83.

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 Saturday night in Game 6 – 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 Friday after the Pistons watched film and shot around casually on the afternoon following their 88-76 loss in Game 5.

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 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 $20,000.

“Nothing – well, I won’t say nothing – distracts Sheed. Sometimes a ref does,” teammate Tayshaun Prince said. “But other than that, as far as basketball, nothing distracts him. He goes out and makes things happen, and when we’re in a situation like we are, he really makes things happen.”

The Pistons faced elimination twice last season when they trailed New Jersey 3-2 in the second round, but they bounced back to win that series. Things also looked bleak for Detroit in the second round last month against Indiana when the Pacers held a 2-1 lead, but the Pistons came back and won the next three.

In their minds, if they get a fair shake from the officials and do a few more things the right way – especially making the extra pass on offense – they’ll be able to extend the series for two more days and advance to the NBA Finals against San Antonio.

But in the minds of the Heat, not enough credit is being given for what they’ve done well.

“According to a lot of the Pistons players, we haven’t won a game yet in this series,” Van Gundy said sarcastically. “They’ve been beaten by the officials three times, and Chauncey Billups always says it’s not us. It’s not the Heat. It’s just them. So we’re 0-2 in the series, and we’ll be looking for our first win tomorrow night.”

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 O’Neal in single coverage – but without much success.

O’Neal again made his first four shots Thursday night, the third time in the series he has done so. Ben 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.”

The Pistons have had some success using Elden Campbell in single coverage against O’Neal, and the idea of starting Campbell was delicately raised to coach Larry Brown on the team’s charter flight home.

But Brown has never been quick to make changes, which means he’ll likely stick with what he’d been doing throughout the series.

“Coach Brown is not that type of guy,” Hunter said. “We win because of execution and the things that we do, not from making major changes. We’ve never done that. We know we can win games if we play the way we’re supposed to.”

If, however, they don’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 1978-79 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.

The validation process for the Pistons can begin anew next fall, but nothing affirms legitimacy quite like back-to-back titles.

“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.”

AP-ES-06-03-05 1821EDT


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