Mandated rests cooled off the Heat's superstar

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

MIAMI -- Relief was the overwhelming sensation Ben Wallace felt when he saw Shaquille O'Neal sent to the bench for a rest just six minutes into the first quarter of Game 1.

"Four dunks," Wallace said. "I don't think he looked like he was winded at all."

Coach Stan Van Gundy removed O'Neal at the behest of the Miami Heat's medical staff, which wanted O'Neal's playing time limited to stretches of 5 to 7 minutes. Van Gundy also was told to monitor O'Neal's rest time with equal vigor.

That gave the coach one more problem to manage on a night when he already had his hands full trying to curtail the Detroit Pistons' matchup advantages, and the end result was a loss.

Van Gundy wasn't certain Tuesday whether the same restrictions would be put on O'Neal for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, though he didn't seem to be relishing the prospect of another night of time micromanagement -- especially with the series on the verge of tilting heavily in Detroit's favor.

"That's sort of a day-to-day thing. The idea last night was not to overly fatigue him in one stretch, and also not sit him out for too long where he tightened up," Van Gundy said.

O'Neal, playing with a bruised right thigh, scored only 12 more points the rest of the night, and Miami squandered every offensive opportunity it had over the final 5 minutes of a 90-81 loss -- the Heat's first of the postseason.

The Pistons will try to take a 2-0 lead when the series resumes tonight.

"We talked about it in the locker room before the game, that this was the game we needed," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said. "We felt they hadn't been tested in this postseason, they hadn't played against a team like us that plays defense, believes in itself and tries to control the tempo of the game."

The Pistons also showed the Heat a few things they didn't fully expect, including Ben Wallace's improved outside shot and the proficiency of Tayshaun Prince's post-up moves.

The Heat did see one thing they were expecting -- single coverage against O'Neal.

Wallace was unable to stop O'Neal in the first six minutes of the game, but the Pistons later adjusted by stationing Wallace in front of O'Neal and daring the Heat to get the ball to their big man with lobs rather than bounce passes.

The strategy limited O'Neal's touches, and he attempted only three shots in the fourth quarter -- a statistic that seemed to irk O'Neal when it was brought up after practice Tuesday.

"They just need to come to me," O'Neal said. "Tired or not, just send it to me."

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