The Miami Heat was one of the first teams to play in a new arena in suburban Detroit so grand, it was named ‘The Palace.’
An expansion team when the building opened in 1988, the Heat took part in the 10th regular season game ever played at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Dec. 20, losing to a Detroit Pistons team which would go on and win the NBA title over the Lakers that season by 16 points.
On Tuesday night, Miami will play its final game in that building as the Pistons are packing up and heading back downtown.
Next season, the 24,000-seat arena will be empty – and perhaps staring down a wrecking ball – as the Pistons join the Detroit Red Wings at the new Little Caesars Arena.
While Miami’s first-ever visit to the Palace wasn’t very memorable, the Heat and Pistons have had some doozies in that building in the past – most memorable coming in the Pistons’ upset of Shaquille O’Neal and the Heat in the 2005 Eastern Conference finals.
Miami and Detroit met again for the east title in 2006.
“Those Eastern Conference championships, there was nothing like that,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, then an assistant under then-Heat coach Stan Van Gundy who, incidentally, now coaches the Pistons.
“There are some buildings which are just different. Detroit, back in the heyday, they were a great rival but those crowds were ready, they were nasty. Those were fun battles.”
In 2005, the top-seeded Heat didn’t lose a game in the first two rounds yet dropped two of three at the Palace (the Heat could have advanced to the Finals with a win in Game 6) and eventually lost Game 7 at home.
Miami returned the favor in 2006 as the second-seeded Heat opened the east finals with a win at the Palace.
Despite losing two of three in Detroit, the Heat ended up winning that series 4-2 by taking Game 6 in Miami.
The Heat won its first NBA title in the next round by beating the Dallas Mavericks.
“I will always remember those games because those were some of the most competitive games I have ever been a part of,” said Udonis Haslem, the only Miami player left with the Heat from those 2005/06 teams.
“I was young and naive; you think it’s always going to be like that so don’t cherish that kind of competition. I’m always going to have those memories. We found out a lot about ourselves, who we were. The Pistons helped teach us to be champions.”
Miami and Detroit have met in the playoffs three times yet both are fighting for a spot in this year’s postseason. The way things look, only one – maybe – will make it in.
So, the next time the Heat and Pistons play, it will be in a new arena just across the way from Detroit’s new football and baseball stadiums not far from the Detroit River.
“It just shows you nothing stops change,” Spoelstra said. “It starts to make you feel a little bit old. Change is inevitable.”
▪ Dion Waiters remains back in Miami after spraining his ankle two weeks ago against Minnesota. Tuesday is the fifth game Waiters has missed with the Heat going 1-3 in the first four.
Spoelstra said there is no timetable for Waiters’ return to the lineup.
“He’s getting great work there so we want to keep him on track,” Spoelstra said.
▪ Goran Dragic has been playing with an abrasion on the outside of his left foot with what his says was caused by constant rubbing from his shoe.
The Miami equipment team is now cutting out a piece of his shoe to give the enlarged area a little relief.
Dragic says the makeshift work — “it’s homemade!” — is doing the trick.
“The foot is good, I didn’t have any problems with it the last game,” Dragic said. “It’s painful when you put the shoe on, but once it’s on, it’s good. It’s not a big deal.”
TUESDAY: HEAT AT PISTONS
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; Palace at Auburn Hills.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710.
Series: Miami leads 54-50.
Scouting report: The Heat and Pistons are jockeying for a playoff spot with Miami coming into Monday holding a one-game lead (Detroit played the Knicks on Monday night). The Pistons won the first two meetings between the two with Miami winning at home 116-103 in January.